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Aurora James Issues Powerful Call to Action, Asks Big Retailers to Commit to Buying From Black-Owned Businesses

Nikara Johns

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While many retailers, designers and brands have responded via social media to speak out against racism following the death of George Floyd last week, designer Aurora James is calling on the industry and corporations alike to do more.

The Brother Vellies founder — who has championed diversity across the industry for many years — is calling on major retailers to pledge 15% of their shelf space to black-owned businesses.

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“We represent 15% of the population and we need to represent 15% of your shelf space,” James posted on Instagram, specifically asking Target, Whole Foods, Net-a-Porter, Home Depot, Sephora, Barnes & Noble and Saks Fifth Avenue to take the pledge.

“For all of the ‘what can we do to help?’ questions out there, this is my personal answer,” she added. “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.”

James, who founded the sustainable Brother Vellies brand of handmade African footwear in 2013, knows firsthand the challenges of being a black, female entrepreneur.

She said in her Instagram post, “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 $3,500 at a flea market. So I am telling you we can get this figured out.”

James used Whole Foods as example, noting if it were to sign the pledge, its support would drive investors to seek out black-owned businesses and force banks to take black businesses more seriously. In doing so, she continued, there’s opportunity to collectively put $14.5 billion into black communities.

Skincare service brand HeyDay has already signed on. The company posted on Instagram today that it was inspired by James’ #15PercentPledge initiative and is committed to stocking at least 15% of its shelves with black-owned brands. HeyDay also said it would be launching a program that donates both funding and consulting to black entrepreneurs in the skincare industry who would benefit from additional resources.

In addition, designer Rebecca Minkoff, Olivia Wilde’s Conscious Commerce platform, La Ligne’s Meredith Melling, jewelry brand Lizzie Fortunato and clothing label Lingua Franca have signed the petition asking retailers to take the pledge.

James has continually discussed the importance of supporting black talents and entrepreneurs.

“[Social media] is a great tool in terms of use and disseminating information, but you have to do more than post a picture,” she said in a 2018 FN cover story. “If you have a voice on any level, if you’re a black celebrity, you should consider wearing black designers. It’s kind of a no-brainer.”

To sign James’ 15% pledge petition, visit 15percentpledge.com.

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