Business

Campaign to promote BIPOC-owned brands calls on Canadian retailers to take '15 Percent Pledge'

A campaign that's been making waves in the U.S., calling on major retailers to do a better job of supporting brands owned by Black, Indigenous and other people of colour, has just launched in Canada.

U.S. version of the initiative has gained support from Sephora and Rent the Runway

Supporters of the 15 Percent Pledge are calling on companies in Canada, such as Holt Renfrew, to commit to devoting 15 per cent of their inventory to brands owned by Black, Indigenous and other people of colour. (CBC)

A campaign that's been making waves in the U.S. by calling on major retailers to do a better job of supporting brands owned by Black, Indigenous and other people of colour is now asking Canadian retailers to do the same.

The 15 Percent Pledge asks Canadian retailers to commit to supporting "brands that are representative of the diverse Canadian population."

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

James said the Canadian effort was launched partly in response to feedback she got from Canadians who got in touch as a result of the U.S. campaign to say that retailers such as Hudson's Bay and Holt Renfrew can do better.

She said she's optimistic that Canadians will take up the mantle.

"Canada is also, in my purview, quick to act when they realize there's inequality happening. I hope some of these retailers will be quick to act on this as well," James said.

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

The campaign asks major retailers to "start a conversation" with the organization about more equitable buying by July 1 — Canada Day.

It's looking for 100,000 Canadians to sign the petition calling on retailers to do so.

The campaign's website points out that Canada's population is five per cent Indigenous and 3.5 per cent Black.

"According to the 2016 census, 22.3 per cent of Canadians identify as visible minorities. Our petition is calling on Canada to apply the 15 Percent Pledge in support of economic equality for the BIPOC of Canada," it says.

James said she'd especially like to see Hudson's Bay, Holt Renfrew and e-commerce site Essence take the lead among Canadian retailers who sign on to meet the 15 per cent target.

She said this work is particularly critical during the pandemic because BIPOC-owned businesses are disproportionately vulnerable to going under during this time. 

A survey from Statistics Canada and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce found that of businesses owned by diverse segments of the population — including women, Indigenous peoples, visible minorities, immigrants and people with disabilities — 48.92 per cent said they could remain open for no longer than three months amid physical  distancing, compared with the national average of 39.7 per cent. 

In the U.S., the 15 Percent Pledge made headlines earlier this month when cosmetics retailer Sephora and online subscription service Rent the Runway committed to ensuring 15 per cent of the products they carry will come from Black creators.

Sephora's support was an especially good start for the campaign. The company is owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and has more than 400 stores in the U.S., and 80 in Canada.

James said right now less than one per cent of store shelves are dedicated to Black-owned businesses in the U.S., but that "dozens" of companies there are now engaged in conversation with the campaign about addressing the imbalance in the brands they carry.

"They're being so thoughtful about it and really making sure they're building out these benchmarks to make sure they can get to the 15 per cent in a super sustainable way," she said.

With files from James Dunne

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