In an effort toward creating more retail shelf space for Black-owned brands in stores, Aurora James, a fashion designer and the founder of Brother Vellies, created the "15% pledge" -- which calls on major retailers to commit a minimum of 15% of their shelf to Black-owned businesses.
On Tuesday, it was announced that Vogue is taking the pledge. Through this commitment, the publication will engage a higher number of Black freelance photographers, writers and creatives with the aim of growing the percentage of work they commission to at least 15% of total hires throughout the year.
"As the most influential and authoritative voice in fashion, we could not be more proud that Vogue has stepped up to take on this responsibility," the organization wrote in a post." It is our hope that by holding them accountable, we can begin to improve the way Black people are represented not just in Vogue, but the media industry at large. "
As a leader in fashion media, Vogue's pledge speaks volumes. In 2018, Tyler Mitchell became the first Black person to ever shoot a Vogue cover, which featured Beyonce, in the magazine's 128-year history.
"Today the creative landscape for Black people has changed," James wrote in a post. "Because of @Vogue's commitment to the @15PercentPledge beautiful Black minds, Black hands, Black eyes and Black opinions will now more greatly contribute in creating the voice of the most influential fashion force in the World. Whereas we were once just the muse, we are now the artist too."
Vogue's 15% pledge was also announced on the same day the publication unveiled the brand's September issue titled "Hope." It's a special issue featuring more than 100 voices discussing the future of fashion. Artists Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel were invited to make paintings and given complete freedom to choose their covers in which James was one of the chosen subjects.
"I believe that what Aurora is doing is hugely important in creating the long-term change that Black people deserve and this country owes us," Casteel said in a statement. "I see her as a light in a lot of darkness, and a potential for hope, a representative of change across all creative industries."
She continued, "What's most exciting to me is being given artistic integrity and being able to choose the person to be my sitter—someone who reflects a portion of my own identity—and then to do that truly in the medium of my choice. This is the way that I speak to the world. And this is the way I've been speaking to the world and talking about the humanity of our people, talking about humanity in general. It's a really profound experience. I do think I'm participating and a change is happening."
In July, West Elm became the third company to take the 15% pledge. With this commitment, the company pledged to support through brand collaborations, local shelf space and hiring practices. The brand also vowed to make a multi-year donation to the 15 Percent Pledge organization.
"We commend West Elm on their commitment to supporting Black-owned businesses and we look forward to working with them to further this mission," the organization wrote in a post.
Shortly before West Elm's pledge, Rent The Runway also committed to stock their shelves in support of Black designers. The fashion rental company will also be ensuring a minimum of 15% of their freelance creative talent will be Black. This includes stylists, photographers, models, influencers and more.
In June, Sephora became the first company to commit to the 15 Percent Pledge. "We recognize how important it is to represent Black businesses and communities, and we must do better," the company captioned a graphic announcing the news. "So, we're starting now."
On Instagram, the 15 Percent Pledge account also spread the news about Sephora's participation. "With unparalleled influence and power, not only in the beauty industry but in retail at large, Sephora is making a historic contribution to the fight against systemic racism and discrimination by taking this Pledge."
The caption continued, "We commend their early leadership and look forward to working with them on their accountability and commitment as we join together in the mission to put billions back into the Black community."
Sephora is fully committing to all three stages of the 15% pledge, which includes taking stock of the current percentage of shelf space and contracts dedicated to Black-owned businesses, taking ownership of all findings, understanding blind spots and disparities, and identifying concrete next steps, as well as taking action to publish and execute a plan for growing the share of black businesses Sephora helps empower to at least 15%.
"We were inspired to make the 15% Pledge because we believe it's the right thing to do, for our clients, our industry, and for our community," said Artemis Patrick, the EVP and chief merchandising officer of Sephora, in a statement. "Ultimately, this commitment is about more than the prestige products on our shelves, it starts with a long-term plan diversifying our supply chain and building a system that creates a better platform for Black-owned brands to grow while ensuring Black voices help shape our industry."
To make sure the Black-owned brands that will now be available at Sephora are supported, the company is examining all areas of its business -- starting with bringing all of its knowledge to the table freely, so aspiring founders have access.
Additionally, the company said it will provide connections to and support from funders and the venture capitalist community as well as help launch and develop Black-owned businesses.
The popular beauty haven also said it will use its internal incubation program Accelerate -- dedicated to cultivating female founders -- to also focus on women of color.
The 15% Pledge organization has also called on several other retailers, such as Target, Whole Foods and Shopbop, to dedicate space for Black-owned brands. "Black businesses need your support today, tomorrow, always," the organization said on its website.
Editor's Note: This story originally posted on June 10, 2020.