Sephora and Rent the Runway commit to ‘15% pledge’ to support Black-owned brands

Cosmetics retailer Sephora and Rent the Runway, an online subscription service for designer clothes, have both committed to ensuring 15 per cent of the products they carry will come from Black creators in reaction to a surging social media campaign.

The so-called 15 per cent pledge challenges major companies to back up messages of solidarity with action to support Black businesses and better serve Black consumers.

The campaign calls for retailers to devote 15 per cent of shelf space to black-owned businesses to reflect the proportion of the U.S. population that is Black. Barely two weeks old, the pledge launched as protests over police violence against Black people swept across the U.S. and around the world.

The campaign is the brainchild of Toronto-born designer Aurora James, whose Brooklyn, N.Y.-based company Brother Vellies makes footwear, handbags and belts.

“The world is calling on you to do better — and now, it’s time to pick up the phone,” said James in one of her Instagram posts.

As more corporations are publicly acknowledging systemic racism exists within their businesses, corporate promises of change are under the spotlight with activists and the public taking companies to task for hollow claims made in commercials or on social media.

Demands that corporations take concrete action to support Black communities and hire and promote Black people at every level of their organizations are getting louder.

James calls Sephora’s pledge ‘historic’

The 15 per cent strategy is off to a promising start with Sephora’s support. The company is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and has more than 400 stores in the U.S., as well as counters in J.C. Penney stores. In Canada, the chain has almost 80 locations.

“We recognize how important it is to represent Black businesses and communities, and we must do better,” Sephora said on Instagram. “So, we’re starting now.”

In response to the company’s promise, James posted “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, economic inequality and discrimination.”

Last week, Sephora announced a partnership with the National Black Justice Coalition and raised more than $1 million US to support Black LGBTQ+ people.

At the time of publication, CBC News was not able to learn if Sephora’s 15 per cent commitment would apply to Canada or include Black-owned Canadian companies.

Customers at a Sephora store in Westgate Mall in Singapore get makeovers. Aurora James, who launched the 15 per cent pledge, called Sephora a company ‘with unparalleled influence and power’ in the beauty and retail sectors and praised its commitment to the pledge as ‘historic.’ (Wei Leng Tay/Bloomberg)

Rent the Runway commits, too

Rent the Runway’s commitment to change was also announced in a social media post.

“We’re doing the work to build a clear, sustained long-term strategy to fight systemic racism,” the company said on Twitter.

Rent the Runway co-founder and CEO Jennifer Hyman further explained on LinkedIn how the company would adapt the pledge to its business model.

Hyman promised that at least 15 per cent of the fashion talent the company features and supports will be from the Black community. That includes models, brand ambassadors, stylists, photographers, videographers and camera crews, she said.

Jennifer Hyman, left, shown with co-founder Jennifer Fleiss at the 2011 Global Fashion and Luxury Summit in New York, said her company’s 15 per cent commitment will apply to models, brand ambassadors, stylists, photographers, videographers and camera crews. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

The company would increase by $1 million US its support for Black designers through its “wholesale, platform and co-manufacturing initiatives.”

James welcomed this kind of action.

“Within every business model, there’s opportunity to apply the #15percentpledge in a variety of ways,” she said on Instagram.

Currently, James has her sights set on the massive retailer Target. On the 15 per cent pledge Instagram page, there are several messages aimed directly at the chain’s CEO, Brian Cornell.

“You are only devoting $10M to help the entire Black community — that’s less than half of the $21.6M you took home to your family last year,” she writes in a post titled Dear Brian. “It’s not enough. Not even close.”

A worker moves clothing at a Rent the Runway storage facility in Secaucus, N.J. The company rents out designer clothing through its website. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)


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