Aurora James on Difficult Retailers Designing Shelf House for Black Owned Companies

Items that can be seen on the shelves do not appear there by chance. Retailers decide what to occupy this valuable space based on a variety of factors. Now a growing movement is trying to ensure that retailers are devoting at least 15% of their shelf space to black-owned businesses. Michelle Miller has the details.

Video transcript

MICHELLE MILLER: The items we see on the shelves do not appear there by chance. Retailers decide what will take up this precious space. Now a growing movement is trying to ensure that black-owned companies have the ability to sell their goods in proportion to the black population. It’s called The 15% Pledge, and I spoke to founder Aurora James about why she believes the only option is to disrupt normal business.

AURORA JAMES: As a woman and as a woman of color, I was so tired of being disappointed in the decisions that people or companies made. But I also realized that in many ways I had failed to really ask about what I needed.

MICHELLE MILLER: Out of frustration, fashion designer Aurora James decided she had to be part of the solution.

– – Say his name!

– – George Floyd.

MICHELLE MILLER: After George Floyd’s murder, she took to Instagram asking major retailers to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to black-owned brands.

AURORA JAMES: Talking to my friends about all of these companies and the donations they made and I was really like, no, people. We need real change. Black companies are dying out.

MICHELLE MILLER: According to a report last June, the National Bureau of Economic Research found that 41% of black-owned businesses closed due to the pandemic. Compare that to less than 17% of white-owned businesses. James founded her own luxury accessories brand, Brother Vellies, in 2013 and knows firsthand the barriers black entrepreneurs face.

AURORA JAMES: I really did this without ever having a loan from my bank or a corporate credit card. It was always one of those things that made me think, oh, you know, it’s weird. Even the first round of PPP like I didn’t get it.

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MICHELLE MILLER: You didn’t understand?

AURORA JAMES: No.

MICHELLE MILLER: The bank said no to you.

AURORA JAMES: I might have liked to meet you, loans from different people, but to be honest, it wasn’t healthy loans that were helpful to my businesses. It wasn’t a loan that any of my white male colleagues in the industry would ever, ever, ever, ever, ever need to get.

MICHELLE MILLER: In addition to providing shelf space, companies are asked to conduct an internal review of their current purchasing power and the contracts that have been assigned to black companies. I’m curious what you say to the companies that they will benefit from it in the backend.

AURORA JAMES: Now, when we look at consumer trends, we also see that people want to shop in places they believe in. And they’re not willing to spend any more money anywhere because we’ve fought hard for every single dollar we make right now as Americans.

– – I wear makeup and I feel totally at ease.

MICHELLE MILLER: Sephora was the first to get involved.

ARTEMIS PATRICK: We were very excited. I’ll tell you within minutes of seeing the promise.

MICHELLE MILLER: Artemis Patrick is Executive Vice President and Global Chief Merchandising Officer for Sephora.

ARTEMIS PATRICK: Within minutes of speaking with Aurora, it became very clear that we agreed that this was truly a long-term plan that would create a platform for the growth and success of black-owned and black-owned prestige beauty brands.

MICHELLE MILLER: How specifically are you and Aurora working together to tackle this major overhaul?

ARTEMIS PATRICK: It should be imperative that the people who create the brands should also be a representation of the people who buy the brands.

MICHELLE MILLER: Sephora has developed a pre-existing program for women founders and launched a new initiative that focuses solely on building black, local and colored beauty brands.

MARIE KOUADIO AMOUZAME: It was very emotional.

MICHELLE MILLER: Marie Kouadio Amouzame and Alice Lin Glover created the Eadem skin care line and belong to the first group of selected women. So Alice go through with me. How is the process?

ALICE LIN GLOVE: It was like winning the lottery. We then did an interview with the Sephora team and I really have to give them credit because I think when we explain our product a lot of people struggle to understand exactly what we are talking about. But they themselves had a diverse group of interviewers, so they really seemed to understand what we were building and why it was important.

MICHELLE MILLER: They met at Google, connected through their common immigrant background, and were one of the few women in the tech company. The two always discussed beauty, but the idea of ​​starting a brand came years earlier.

MARIE KOUADIO AMOUZAME: It was 2014 and this very famous Hollywood black actress was the face of a well-known brand. And they’d just launched a foundation product. And I thought, oh my god, someone who looks like me, I have to buy this product. And I come to the counter and ask about my shadow and I think I want what she has. And the salesman looks at me and says: Oh, we have no shadow here.

MICHELLE MILLER: So the shades available, they do the hue, they just didn’t bother to get your color to the store.

MARIE KOUADIO AMOUZAME: Yes, that’s exactly. And I thought, OK, I really have to do something in this industry because when I see that there are sure to be other pockets where we can bring change and more diversity.

MICHELLE MILLER: For James, it’s about the promise to make a difference. What will society be like when we are on the other side when you have achieved these goals?

AURORA JAMES: When we talk about helping small business and helping small black businesses in this country, it really means helping disadvantaged communities who need it most. And it’s important that everyone understands that the 15% pledge is not just about positively influencing blacks, but positively affecting the country as a whole.

MICHELLE MILLER: And that’s really the bottom line. A rising tide lifts all boats. Minority women now control nearly half of all women-run businesses, according to Inc. magazine. Women are the backbone entrepreneurs in this country. So you have to make sure they get a chance to fight and even the field of play.

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