While culture in general goes through a reckoning sparked by the police murder of George Floyd, questions have arisen as to what can be done to achieve racial equality between institutions and industries beyond vague platitudes. Within the fashion community, Aurora James, creative director and founder of luxury accessories company Brother Vellies, has something appealingly concrete to suggest: she urges retailers to swear that 15 percent of the products they stock come from black-owned companies.
“I’ve processed [brands’ Black Lives Matter statements] as two versions of me: as a black woman and then as a black business owner, ”James Robb tells Report. “I realized that I needed a metric to appease both elements of myself.” That metric became the 15 percent promise. Based on the 13.4 percent of the population that make up African Americans, she urges retailers to keep their promise.
Companies that do this start with being transparent about current levels of diversity by conducting a review of their suppliers and making those results public. They would then commit to a plan to increase supply of black-owned companies to hit the 15 percent benchmark.
James has focused her own efforts on attracting Fortune 500 companies based on their likely impact: Target, Whole Foods, Sephora (which has already signed), and Walmart alone could raise $ 15 billion in black-owned companies if they made the promise fulfill. But even smaller luxury labels have been ready to take part since the project started at the end of May.
“That moment got the population going and got people thinking about how they can do something to have a more equitable system around us,” said Greg Lellouche of online menswear retailer No Man Walks Alone. “The realization that each of us can make a difference economically is a defining characteristic of this special moment, beyond the protests.”
For Lellouche, this means adapting the ordering process so that 15 percent of the company’s purchase price comes from black designers. While the brand is already working with labels like Glenn’s Denim, Post-Imperial and Norwegian Rain, he hopes to bring in new designers over the next two seasons to keep the promise.
According to Lellouche, the company will use social media to keep followers informed of the stats after each buying season. “To hold us accountable for the promise we need to re-prioritize and give more weight to black-owned brands.” This work will be done along with a mentoring program for aspiring black designers and an annual donation of $ 15,000 to five anti-discrimination charities. Mentoring programs that go beyond promise will be key to this process as James points out that lack of access to gatekeepers is an obstacle for some black designers.
Naked Cashmere also takes a multi-faceted approach, from hiring it to providing 15 percent of the space for black-owned brands to working with more black social influencers. CEO Bruce Gifford says, “This was a challenge because the clothing business is a very white business.” To counteract this, the company also offers marketing support for black-owned brands.
The hoped-for outcome of these combined steps would not only mean a redistribution of wealth and opportunities, but also a new empowerment for black-owned companies.