The 15% Pledge: 
A CALL FOR DIVERSITY

Canada is a diverse place. We are built from a variety of colours, cultures, and creeds that, up until very recently, we thought we were doing a good job at celebrating. But like with anything, you can wake up one day and realize that such is just not the case. This is where change begins. 

           —By Lauren Walker-Lee

In these past six months, we have been both viewers and participants of an insane year. In 2020 so far, we have experienced mother nature rip through Australia and a global pandemic that has caused us to change every fibre of our thinking, as well as our day-to day duties and priorities, and more importantly, turn down the volume on our “busy-ness” to allow for more crucial themes to rise and be amplified. What has surfaced is the pivotal need to fight for racial equality on many fronts. 

Though we are not American, we are not exempt from systemic racism here in Canada, and as a nation where one in four people identify as a visible minority, our support (and spending habits) must reflect that. Additionally, realizing where and how privilege hides and uncovering the areas to do better, to learn or unlearn, and support BIPOC communities is just the beginning of this long and overdue movement.  

So, where does fashion come into play? Some may say that fashion is frivolous or may have trouble connecting the dots between what we put on our backs and any societal change, but where dollars go, energy flows. And fashion, where trends are born, has the power to shift spending and spark change. This past week we welcomed the 15 Percent Pledge to Canada; a progressive idea started by Canadian born, Brooklyn-based designer Aurora James of Brother Vellies, who took a simple premise and turned it into a pledge. Only a couple of weeks back, the 15 Percent Pledge was born in the US. A raw and honest idea, a snap for social media, and the collective thinking of fashion and beauty consumers started a fire — and it spread. The pledge asks for retailers to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to black-owned businesses. Seeing as the black community makes up 15% of the US population, this request makes the pledge concise and impossible to ignore.

aurora james

Aurora James

 

With retail giants like Sephora and Rent the Runway on board, and more announcements to come, the pledge has come north to Canada. Joining the movement and spearheading it in Canada is journalist and entrepreneur Mosha Lundström Halbert, who has called on major Canadian retailers Holt Renfrew, Maison Simons, SSENSE, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Indigo to take the pledge by the very fitting Canada Day deadline, and has expanded the call to include Indigenous brands as well.  Having more space dedicated to BIPOC brands is not just representative of where we live but will also allow for wealth and opportunity to be more equitably distributed.

 

 

 

 

 

The numbers don’t lie. Through a staggering amount of work (and commitment to the cause), Mosha and a team of volunteer student journalists embarked on an external audit of the retailers, combing through brand lists in search of BIPOC owned brands. The findings were so small that you need a magnifying glass. I urge you to take a look at the numbers. It’ll help this sink in. 

Though this is just the beginning, what we put on our bodies, the dialogue around style and the power of our spending can shift trends and also shift opinions. As fashion and beauty fans, and humans, let’s take the pledge so our shelves and closets are more representative of the country we love and the diverse talent around the world.  Everyone is urged to take the pledge and spread the word at www.15percentpledge.ca.

Below, we speak with Aurora James on the movement she has created, as well as hear from fashion industry veteran Lisa Tant and Indigenous fashion designer Lesley Hampton

 

Aurora James on the initiative

As a business owner, the pandemic amplified my feelings seeing how much Black businesses were suffering. I believe this Pledge is ONE way major retailers can begin to take steps towards distributing wealth and opportunity more intentionally amongst BIPOC. Black and Indigenous people spend billions of dollars in this country every year but yet represent an insignificant fraction of how these companies allocate their purchasing power. I am asking these huge corporations to rethink their business strategy as well as rethink business relationships in order to fairly represent the community on their shelves. In Canada, over 20% of the population identifies as minorities. If we can get top Canadian retailers to commit to the Pledge, we can funnel billions of dollars into BIPOC communities.

Lisa Tant shares her thoughts on the pledge coming to Canada

I was really inspired when I first read about Aurora’s initiative on Instagram. So many ideas —like posting a black screen on Instagram — don’t really do anything. Aurora’s pledge was smart and actionable. And, I really liked how Mosha updated it to suit the culture in Canada in including our Indigenous community. We need to put convert our money into action by supporting brands from all of the cultures that make up this diverse country.

Lesley Hampton on more diversity on our shelves

I think the 15 Percent Pledge will be an incredible shift of awareness for the fashion industry. As a country that prides themselves on diversity in other sectors, I think the Canadian fashion industry and Canadian retailers should follow suit. Becoming more aware of who you have on your shelves and on your backs, what ethos those brands consciously and subconsciously represent, will be a great way to push the industry forward to accept all skin tones, body types, and peoples. 

Aurora James on the pledge translating to into actual shelf space

I think it’s an absolute. Sephora and Rent the Runway have already committed in the United States and we are in conversations with a handful of additional brands that we plan to announce in the coming weeks. 

Lisa Tant on how designers can successfully work with big name retailers

It can be difficult for major retailers to be flexible enough to work with small or newer brands. Unfortunately, the pandemic has decimated sales this year, and as a result, buyers will be very nervous to invest in fledgling or smaller collections that don’t have a sales track record. Buyers also need brands to prove that they can meet production capabilities to satisfy quality control and deliveries to multiple locations or websites. This is where the retailer’s flexibility is critical. I could see companies such as Holt Renfrew, Indigo, and Nordstrom hosting pop-up shops in their highest volume locations. Then I would suggest that they provide mentorship from their buyers, marketers and production experts (through Zoom calls, etc.) to help support and guide the brands in developing their businesses to meet the required retail deadlines. 

Lesley Hampton on retail support and where to find talent…

I believe initiatives that dedicate themselves to presenting diverse talent will be where people can look for their candidates to stock for the pledge. Indigenous Fashion Week Toronto, Vancouver Indigenous Fashion Week, and EntrepreNorth are all great ways to discover Indigenous fashion talent from coast to coast to coast. Some of my favourites are: Sage Paul, Niio Perkins Designs, Tania Larsson, Warren Steven Scott, Section 35, Cheekbone Beauty. 

For big name retailers: Look back on the history of your brand, how it was founded, did you benefit off the mistreatment of BIPOC, and if so, how will you change moving forward so that will never happen again and how will you right your wrongs?

Aurora James on the slow uptick from Canadian retailers to support their own…

I don’t think it’s a Canada-only issue. I believe that historically, Black and Indigenous people have had to work twice as hard to get half as many opportunities. 

Lisa Tant speaks to how consumer spending, marketing, and social media all come into play to bring about change

Buyers want to sell what their customer wants to buy — it’s a no-brainer. But the buyers need to feel the pressure of that demand right now. I’d like to see publications to industry organizations to social media influencers supporting this pledge to help raise awareness. Canadians like to support homegrown talent but so often these brands don’t get the spotlight because they don’t have the funds for marketing or promotions. We need to join hands across all platforms to spotlight these brands and build the buzz.

Lesley Hampton is optimistic for the future… 

I’m looking forward to a time where inclusion of diverse talents and diverse casting of models isn’t a viral news piece. We’ve gone viral in press/media a number of times for doing just this: including everyone. I’m excited to see where fashion goes when all people are included in the creation of what we think fashion is and could be. 

Even last fall I was told I was practicing a “white trade” for choosing fashion design as a career choice. I think education is going to be the way forward for all sectors in Canada, and I think fashion has a great way of storytelling to educate people, if only the fans of fashion, for a better tomorrow. 

 

In related news, read all about Canadian Designer George Sully’s Black Designers of Canada Index in our interview.

Written on: June 30, 2020