How the Fifteen Percent Pledge is Powering Black-Owned Business

How The Fifteen Percent Pledge is Pushing for Better Diversity on Store Shelves

Following the horrific murder of George Floyd, Canadian-born director, activist, and fashion designer Aurora James decided she needed to do something to make a difference. Act after act of police brutality with little to no repercussions for the perpetrators left the Black community in a state of perpetual fear and disgust. George Floyd’s death on May 20, 2020 also came at the same time as the height of the pandemic, which disproportionately affected Black businesses.

The Fifteen Percent Pledge’s Executive Director, LaToya Williams-Belfort (Image credit: LaToya Williams-Belfort)

James’s response was to found the Fifteen Percent Pledge, which has since gone on to bring on board over two dozen major corporations. According to James’s website, the impact of the Fifteen Percent Pledge has been significant, “effectively diverting over $5B in capital to Black entrepreneurs in the United States” within the first year.

Around this time 40% of Black-owned businesses were forced to shut down because of the lack of assistance and increased struggle they faced to stay afloat. With no systematic justice for either of these issues in sight, Aurora James created the Fifteen Percent Pledge to help ease these problems.

Retailers Pledging Space for Black-owned Products on their Shelves

The pledge urges retailers to ensure that fifteen percent of their shelf space is dedicated to businesses owned by members of the Black community. More than 13% of the United States population identify as Black, and 2% identify as mixed race. Totalling those equates to the 15% for which the pledge is seeking to carve out product space. 

“Of course there have been challenges throughout this process — it is not easy to get million-dollar retailers and businesses to restructure their business models,” said The Fifteen Percent Pledge’s Executive Director, LaToya Williams-Belfort, regarding this new model for driving social change. “But the challenges do not hold a candle to the incredible opportunities we are creating for Black small businesses and entrepreneurs.”

The goal of the pledge is to work on the racial wealth gap in the country and increase economic accountability for our supply chains. Since the founding of the organization in 2020, almost $10 billion dollars of revenue has been accrued for black-owned businesses from these increased product placements in stores. Moreover, the traditional retailers that have taken the pledge have at least doubled their offerings of Black-owned brands. 

So far, a total of 28 companies have made the pledge across three different countries. Among the pledging companies are large corporate entities including Ulta, Sephora, Macy’s, Vogue, Madewell, Old Navy and more. 

James Also Playing Role in Social Justice Messaging Through Fashion

Aurora James, now Brooklyn-based, helping to fit Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for her Met Gala appearance. (Image Credit: AOC on Instagram)

Aurora James is also the mastermind behind Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s provocative appearance at the Met Gala in her “Tax the Rich” dress. The dress helped to highlight the issue of tax inequality which negatively impacts so many, especially women in communities of color.

Individuals Can Pledge Too

On an individual level, a Consumer Commitment is another way The Fifteen Percent Pledge is seeking to bring more supporters on board. This commitment asks you to dedicate 15% of your monthly budget to Black-owned enterprises. More support for Black-owned businesses in personal spending has a the potential to make a significant impact on our economy and increase diverse participation in the retail sector.

Over the course of the first two quarters of 2021 alone, more than 385 Black-owned businesses were able to partner with the organization’s pledge takers.

The Future of the Pledge

The work isn’t over yet. The Fifteen Percent Pledge has big plans to make their footprint of social change grow.  A database of over 1,200 Black-owned businesses will be released in the coming weeks to help consumers and pledge takers alike to find Black-entreprenuers to support. 

Additionally, in the next few months the organization plans to announce new partnerships and resources for Black entrepreneurs designed to work towards racial equity in our economy. 

“The Pledge is committed to closing the racial wealth gap by accelerating Black-owned businesses and partnering with retailers to diversify their shelves. By 2030, we hope to drive $1.4 trillion of wealth generation by Black entrepreneurs and increase Black business representation by 14.6 percent.,” added Williams-Belfort. 

Considering the innovative nature of this approach, it will be interesting to see how they call to account the many businesses in our culture that exclude diverse communities in their supply chains. For those of us looking to support the pledge, donations can be made to help this new nonprofit push for better investment in Black-owned enterprises. 


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Author: Kimberly Pike

Kimberly Pike is a writer, artist and self proclaimed cat lady living in Rhode Island. She is passionately writing about women's issues and helping to teach others about it.

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