Indigo Just Made A Major Announcement About The 15% Pledge

Photographed by Sophie Hur.
UPDATE: The first Canadian retailer has signed up for the 15 Percent Pledge. Bookstore and lifestyle chain Indigo Canada has pledged that, by the end of 2021, 15% of books on its shelves will be written by BIPOC authors. It’s also committed to having the same percentage of lifestyle and home décor products from BIPOC-owned businesses. Luxury fashion retailer Holt Renfrew has promised to hit the same target by the end of 2022, but is not connected with the 15 Percent Pledge, confirmed organizers.
Original story follows.
Last month, during the height of the protests for George Floyd while brands were busy making statements in support of Black Lives Matter, accessories designer Aurora James posted a spontaneous call-to-action online: The Brother Vellies creative director challenged American retailers to commit to buying 15% of their products from Black-owned businesses, a percentage that reflects the Black population of the United States.
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Now, with high-profile participants like Sephora and Rent the Runway signed on, James, who is from Toronto but based in New York, has brought her 15 Percent Pledge north: She's encouraging Canadians to sign the petition calling on merchants like Holt Renfrew, SSENSE, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Hudson’s Bay to carry BIPOC brands and “support brands that are representative of the diverse Canadian population.”
Over 22% of Canadians are people of colour, and yet this diversity is far from reflected in the stores and websites where many of us shop. Consider Hudson’s Bay, which carries only nine Black brands and one Indigenous designer out of the 1,832 brands stocked across departments. Or Holt Renfrew; of the 285 brands the luxury retailer carries online, none are from Indigenous founders and only three have Black creative directors. The beauty category is equally lacking: Shoppers Drug Mart carries no brands from Indigenous founders and just three Black-owned brands out of the 204 featured in the retailer’s luxury beauty vertical.
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@wholefoods @target @shopmedmen @walmart @saks @sephora @netaporter @barnesandnoble @homedepot I am asking you to commit to buying 15% of your products from Black owned businesses. . So many of your businesses are built on Black spending power. So many of your stores are set up in Black communities. So many of your sponsored posts are seen on Black feeds. This is the least you can do for us. We represent 15% of the population and we need to represent 15% of your shelf space. . Whole Foods if you were to sign on to this pledge, it could immediately drive much needed support to Black farmers. Banks will be forced to take them seriously because they will be walking in with major purchase orders from Whole Foods. Investors for the very first time will start actively seeking them out. Small businesses can turn into bigger ones. Real investment will start happening in Black businesses which will subsequently be paid forward into our Black communities. . Dont get me wrong, I understand the complexities of this request. I am a business Woman. I have sold millions of dollars of product over the years at a business I started with $3500 at a flea market. So I am telling you we can get this figured out. This is an opportunity. It is your opportunity to get in the right side of this. . So for all of the ‘what can we do to help?’ questions out there, this is my personal answer. #15PercentPledge . I will get texts that this is crazy. I will get phone calls that this is too direct, too big of an ask, too this, too that. But I don’t think it’s too anything, in fact I think it’s just a start. You want to be an ally? This is what I’m asking for.

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This is all according to research by Mosha Lundström Halbert, a fashion director and a co-founder of outerwear brand Therma Kōta, who is spearheading the Canadian campaign alongside James. "It really doesn't sit well with me, and many other people, when you see this onslaught of Black models, for example, being used in [store] campaigns and on Instagram, and then when you look at the brand list, it feels so different," says Lundström Halbert. "You want Black people to spend money in your stores and you want it to look like that you're welcoming to Black and Indigenous people, but you're not actually supporting any of their businesses."
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Canadian fashion designers have long struggled for recognition from retailers, and for BIPOC designers it's even more difficult to break into the industry. Support of any kind can make a major difference to brands' bottom lines. For example, when Beyoncé mentioned Canadian plant-based snack company Mumgry on her “The Black Parade Route,” a curated list of Black-owned small businesses, the Vancouver-based business received an influx of new customers from as far away as Bahrain and the United Kingdom.
Similarly, Selfish Swimwear designer and founder Naomie Caron told Refinery29 that the long-awaited push to support Black businesses born out of the Black Lives Matter protests and the calls on social media to #BuyBlack, has resulted in more sales and exposure for her Montreal-based label. “Now people are seeing that [we offer] good service and good quality products, so it’s helping me show myself to the world."
Alexandrine Pierre, founder of the luxe organic line Apprenti Ôr'ganik, a skincare range that’s handmade without any fillers or synthetic ingredients, is hopeful that initiatives like the 15 Percent Pledge will create a more-inclusive marketplace. “It's going to bring more diversity, and help people not categorize a brand just because of the person who represents it,” she says. “The more we're exposed to entrepreneurs from a different skin colour, the more we’ll see that there is no difference.” While her business is primarily sold through independent retailers and online, where “people don't know right away that the owner is a Black woman,” Pierre has occasionally noticed “a little discomfort” in person from white shoppers at markets who “don't know how to interact” with her or then assume that the products aren’t suitable for them. 
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Making sure that we support BIPOC businesses also involves looking at diversity and bias issues that affect the entire fashion ecosystem. As part of the pledge, James is calling on retailers to also look at how many people of colour are in their corporate offices, in their C-suites, and on their advisory boards

Making sure that we support BIPOC businesses also involves looking at diversity and bias issues that affect the entire fashion ecosystem. As part of the pledge, James is calling on retailers to also look at how many people of colour are in their corporate offices, in their C-suites, and on their advisory boards. “If you 0.5% of the brands you carry are from people of colour, what is wrong with your pipeline?” she said in a call with Canadian 15 Percent Pledge supporters last week. “If you're not seeing those brands come to the table, perhaps your buying team needs to be more diverse.”
Caron hopes that outlook extends to mentorship and business education, too. “The biggest help we could give the community is teaching,” says Caron. “How to express my company values, pitch to partners, clients and investors, give proper customer service, and formulate a solid business plan (to eventually get a business loan) are all things I had to learn, and I come from a family of entrepreneurs.”
As the first step, the organizers of the Canadian 15 Percent Pledge are hoping that major retailers will reach out by July 1, in time for Canada Day. Smaller retailers like The Detox Market have already announced support; but, for now, none of Canada’s largest stores have committed to signing on, an action, which, in this moment, seems like the bare minimum. “The pledge is not a takedown,” says James. “It's an invitation to come to the table, figure this out together, and work on it together.” 

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