The three steps are clear: Take stock, take ownership and take action.
This is Aurora James’ call for major retailers to dedicate part of its shelf space to Black-owned businesses as part of the 15 Percent Pledge. The Toronto-native, New York City-based designer and founder of luxury accessories label Brother Vellies launched the initiative in June after thinking about what she would need as a business owner to feel supported.
“We’re not asking for this to happen overnight – there must be a clear strategy with attainable goals,” said James. “We felt these steps could get the retailers to where they need to be to take the pledge.”
In the U.S., Black Americans represent almost 15 percent of the population, and the pledge calls on retailers like Target, Whole Foods and Shopbop to commit at least that percentage to supporting Black-owned businesses. Currently, Sephora U.S. is the first and only retailer to have signed onto the pledge. While James notes that it could take a few years for any change to materialize, she’s prepared to provide the tools to make it happen. “Success is defined by thoughtfulness and longevity,” she said. “We’re here to help lay out that plan and strategy, and we have some of the most brilliant Black minds on board to help make it happen.”
James said that consumers also have a role to play in deciding what their retailers offer. “This is the time when individuals are really taking a step back and looking at how they spend their money,” she said. Putting pressure on retailers through social media – re-tagging, signing and re-posting the pledge petition – are ways to ensure that the voices of consumers are also heard.
Although the pledge is focused on retailers in the U.S., James believes that Canadian retailers can do better when it comes to diversifying its shelves. “On the Brother Vellies side, I can definitely say that [Canadian] retailers have been much, much more cautious and conservative with their buys,” she said. “They tend to lean towards products they think will be driven by celebrities or are super artisanal – there hasn’t been a lot of space for the in-between.”
In June, the pledge was expanded to include Canadian retailers. For the Toronto Star, designer and journalist Mosha Lundstrӧm Halbert conducted an audit on the number of Black and Indigenous brands carried by Canadian retailers Shoppers Drug Mart, Holt Renfrew, Ssense, Simons and Hudson’s Bay. The results: Very few or none of the hundreds of brands carried are Black or Indigenous-owned.
According to the 2016 census, 3.5 percent of the population in Canada is Black, 6.2 percent is Indigenous, and 22.3 percent are a visible minority. We asked six major fashion and beauty retailers in Canada to share a breakdown of brands carried in-stores that are owned by Black, Indigenous and people of colour as well as brands that are Canadian-owned. Here’s what they said.
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Thank you for speaking up. We have read all of your comments and we hear you. Holt Renfrew stands in solidarity with the black community and all those fighting against social injustice. We are having important conversations internally about the best way to show our support and our commitment to inclusivity and equality. We are challenging ourselves to do better from this point on, and know that words without action are not enough.
The luxury department store, which has locations across Canada in Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Vancouver, issued this statement in an e-mail: “While we do carry a variety of Canadian labels, across different divisions, as well as some Black-owned brands, we are continuously researching new brands to add to our assortment. We are challenging ourselves to do better across all areas of our business and our merchandise offering is part of this. We are committed to change and will communicate these changes to our customers and employees accordingly.”
In an e-mail statement issued to customers, Hudson’s Bay president Ian Nairn committed to establishing a task force to advance the work of the company’s Diversity and Inclusion team in different aspects of the company, from leadership to products. As a first step, The Hudson’s Bay Foundation donated $100,000 to the Black Health Alliance, a community-led charity working to reduce racial disparities in health outcomes for Black communities in Canada.
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We need change. As a company, we know we have the opportunity to make things better, which is why over the past several years we've amplified our efforts when it comes to diversity, inclusion and belonging at Nordstrom. It begins not only by speaking out, but by listening. Listening to our employees, customers and neighbors as they share what it's like to be a person of colour in our country today. It's working to ensure our teams and leaders represent the diversity we seek. It's providing each and every customer who walks in our door the service and experience they expect and deserve to receive at Nordstrom. Our "Courageous Conversation" forums set up by our Black Employee Network have made a big impact on us. These conversations aren't easy, but they've never been more important. We're grateful for the courage of our employees as they share their stories. We are proud to stand with them. #BlackLivesMatter #NspireChange
In an open letter to employees, CEO Erik Nordstrom and president Pete Nordstrom addressed and outlined the retailer’s approach to diversity and inclusion. In response to working with Black-owned companies and other underrepresented groups, they stated: “We’ve had a Supplier Diversity program in place for a number of years to provide opportunities for companies owned by those who are underrepresented, including Black-owned businesses. We found several opportunities where we could be a better partner to these businesses, and we plan to make a number of updates. We look forward to sharing our new program soon.”
Simons declined to comment for this piece. The Quebec City-based retailer recently collaborated with eight Indigenous artists and creators for the Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto x Edito capsule collection and Fabrique 1840, an artisan program designed to bring small and local Canadian makers to a wider consumer.
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We have actively been listening as our employees and members of our beauty community courageously share their truths. As a company, we remain focused on furthering dialogue and taking action around diversity and inclusion. We have a long road ahead of us still, but we are committing to these actions. — Nous écoutons activement nos employés et les membres de notre collectivité beauté qui ont courageusement partagé leur réalité. En tant qu’entreprise, nous demeurons déterminés à faire progresser le dialogue et à prendre des mesures à propos de la diversité et de l’inclusion. Nous avons encore beaucoup de chemin à faire, mais nous prenons engagement envers ces mesures.
In an Instagram post, Sephora Canada detailed steps that the retailer is taking towards greater diversity and inclusion, including evolving its internal incubator program to focus on WOC founders and placing a Canadian representative on the Sephora Pledge Team to bring new Black-owned brands to Canada.
The Detox Market
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The Detox Market was founded on the belief that our choices have real power—and that everyday changes can lead to profound, lasting transformation. A decade ago, that looked like creating a safe community for people to detox their lives. Over the past few weeks, it’s meant scrutinizing how our company can do more than offer sideline support and words of solidarity against racial injustice.⠀ ⠀⠀ It may seem obvious, but it bears repeating: The status quo is unacceptable. Awareness is simply not enough; what matters is advocacy and action—taking concrete steps to pave a better way forward towards equality.⠀ ⠀⠀ The future is in our hands. We can and will do better—this is just the beginning. Click the #linkinbio to learn more.
The green beauty retailer announced its commitment to increase the representation of BIPOC-owned or -founded brands to over 20 percent. At the moment, just over 15 percent of its brands are BIPOC-owned or -founded, while approximately 20 percent are Canadian. In an email, the company notes that the onboarding process – which includes research and negotiation – for new brands can take three to four months and depends on each brand’s stock. As part of its action plan to increase diversity within its team and the industry, The Detox Market is also committing $1,000,000 over four years to help BIPOC founders launch and accelerate new beauty brands through incubator program The Launchpad.
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