Brooklyn designer asks retailers to pledge 15% of their shelves to Black-owned businesses 



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@wholefoods @target @shopmedmen @walmart @saks @sephora @netaporter @barnesandnoble @homedepot I am asking you to commit to buying 15% of your products from Black owned businesses. . So many of your businesses are built on Black spending power. So many of your stores are set up in Black communities. So many of your sponsored posts are seen on Black feeds. This is the least you can do for us. We represent 15% of the population and we need to represent 15% of your shelf space. . Whole Foods if you were to sign on to this pledge, it could immediately drive much needed support to Black farmers. Banks will be forced to take them seriously because they will be walking in with major purchase orders from Whole Foods. Investors for the very first time will start actively seeking them out. Small businesses can turn into bigger ones. Real investment will start happening in Black businesses which will subsequently be paid forward into our Black communities. . Dont get me wrong, I understand the complexities of this request. I am a business Woman. I have sold millions of dollars of product over the years at a business I started with $3500 at a flea market. So I am telling you we can get this figured out. This is an opportunity. It is your opportunity to get in the right side of this. . So for all of the ‘what can we do to help?’ questions out there, this is my personal answer. #15PercentPledge . I will get texts that this is crazy. I will get phone calls that this is too direct, too big of an ask, too this, too that. But I don’t think it’s too anything, in fact I think it’s just a start. You want to be an ally? This is what I’m asking for.

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In late May, Aurora James, the creative director of Greenpoint-based accessories brand Brother Vellies, asked major retailers to rethink their spending power. “Ok, this is one thing you can do for us,” the Black designer and founder wrote in a post directed to nine companies including Whole Foods, Target, and Walmart. “I’m asking you to commit to buying 15% of your products from Black-owned businesses.” Last week, Sephora became the first to formally accept James’s benchmark, which is equal to the percentage of Black Americans in the U.S.

With the help of illustrators and graphic designers, James has been sharing the disparities Black business owners face through her new non-profit, 15 Percent Pledge. The hurdles are as grim as you’d expect. Just 2% of the Small Business Investment Company program goes to Black-owned businesses. Only 1% of Black business owners get a loan in their first year. And Black Americans own just 2% of businesses with employees, compared to the 81% owned by white Americans. 

James, who received no loans or VC support when she began her company, knows first-hand how a purchase order from a major retailer can change the trajectory of a business. “The idea that one of these small brands could get picked up at Sephora and end up at stores potentially all across the country and all across the world—that is a dream come true, a game changer,” she told Vogue. “We also know that female founders and Black people who are the founders of their own businesses end up contributing to their own communities as well. So this isn’t just about Black business owners. This is about Black people in Black communities as a whole.”

Having Sephora accept the challenge is just the first step. Now the goal is to get others to sign on, and hold brands accountable once they do. “In addition to these retailers taking stock of the current percentage of shelf space and contracts dedicated to Black-owned businesses, they must take ownership of their findings, understand the blind spots and disparities, and identify concrete next steps,” James said by email. “The team at the Pledge is working with these brands to set attainable benchmarks and deadlines that we will check in on.”

James doesn’t want to be the middle woman, necessarily, in connecting retailers with the Black-owned businesses to stock. “We certainly can,” she said, “but we want these brands to do the work. If a brand such as Sephora is seeking out brands that work for them on their shelves, it means a whole lot more than if we just hand them a list.”


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We have news! 💌 Over the past few weeks at home, I’ve started thinking a little differently about my role as a Creative Director. I created @BrotherVellies with the intention of bringing more beauty into the world by supporting artisan Communities of Color across the globe. Since then, our partner communities have expanded exponentially; yet my mission remains the same. However, this pandemic has reminded me that I’m just as vulnerable as the rest of us. Like many of you, I’ve grappled with a new reality that places everything we’ve built together at risk. This hasn’t been easy on any of us. . To navigate this difficult time in our world, I’ve leaned on the mission that’s guided me all along. What’s brought me the most joy despite the uncertainty has been making special things for you. New things. In little batches. Each made with love by our Artisan community for you to enjoy at home. . First came the beautiful Oaxacan mug that I slow-stir my coffee in. Then the cozy cloud socks that I WFH in. The only problem is each sold out faster than we could restock because at present we can only make 5-10 mugs a day—and TBH I never dreamed that you would find as much comfort in these little creations as I do. . So, that’s why we’re rolling out a new program called ‘SOMETHING SPECIAL’ to ensure you’ll never have to wait for your special something. Which is important to me. Because I wouldn’t be here without you. . By joining our family, now we can keep creating new things for you to enjoy at home that will be delivered to your door every month. This program simply formalizes our eco-system of artisanal suppliers and supporters, making it easier for all of us to experience the beauty Brother Vellies was built on. . It’s a process filled with love, care & local, slow, sustainable sourcing. Which made me think —what is luxury if not that? Luxury can no longer be represented solely by a price point, it must be represented by process. This new process was designed with you in mind and every new creation comes from the heart. . I love you. I appreciate you & I’m excited to navigate this new world with you 💌 Join my our family at the link in bio xo Aurora

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Besides, she has her own brand to nurture during this precarious time. Brother Vellies, whose physical store is on Franklin Street in Greenpoint, sells luxury shoes and bags made by artisan communities of color around the world, with a focus on traditional African techniques and design practices. As gorgeous as her goods are, James knew that four-figure boots might be a hard sell during a stay-at-home order. So she created a membership program called Something Special, in which the artisans she works with craft a special, one-of-a-kind object to be enjoyed at home each month.

This time has hit our community hard—not only financially but also mentally. We wanted to create small batch items for our community that brought joy and comfort into their homes. By signing up, on the 15th of every month, you will automatically receive something special delivered right to your door.” In this month’s shipment are handmade vases made by a collective of women in Mexico with handwoven hanging straps. The next shipment in July is still available to order, and costs $35.

It’s just one way to #BuyBlack at a moment when the community needs the most support. “It’s said that 40% of Black-owned businesses will not survive the pandemic,” James said. “If we want to continue to live in a world where we have diverse choices, we have to help those diverse choices succeed.”

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