Sephora Joins 15 Percent Pledge, Commits to Stocking More Black-Owned Brands

The beauty retailer is partnering with 15 Percent Pledge to diversify its shelves

The number of Black-owned businesses dropped a devastating 41% during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sephora
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Beauty retailer Sephora will commit at least 15% of shelf space in its stores to Black-owned brands.

The announcement was made in partnership with 15 Percent Pledge, a campaign launched earlier this month by fashion designer Aurora James to encourage lifestyle retailers to stock more Black-owned brands. James’ effort started with a petition saying that since Black people make up 15% of the U.S. population, their businesses should make up 15% of the supply chain for major retailers.

“One-time donations are extremely important, as they funnel immediate funds into the communities and help businesses get back on their feet in the short term,” James told Adweek. “The [15 Percent] Pledge is looking to securing financial longevity and economic equality in the long term.”

Sephora CMO Artemis Patrick said the pledge was the “right thing to do for our clients, our industry and for our community.”

“Ultimately, this commitment is about more than the prestige products on our shelves,” Patrick said in an email to Adweek. “It starts with a long-term plan diversifying our supply chain and building a system that creates a better platform for Black-owned brands to grow while ensuring Black voices help shape our industry. We recognize we can do better, and this pledge builds on our ongoing work to use our resources to drive meaningful and long-term change for Sephora and our industry.”

According to a Sephora representative, the retailer currently carries just seven Black-owned beauty brands: Fenty Beauty, Pat McGrath Labs, Briogeo, Adwoa Beauty, Golde, KNC Beauty and Shani Darden Skin Care. This is out of more than 290 brands, and representative acknowledged that “we can and will be doing more.”

As part of the pledge, Sephora will assess the current percentage of Black-owned brands it carries, publish its findings and offer a concrete plan for bringing the number up to 15%, including investing in helping Black entrepreneurs through connections with venture capital and launch support.

Sephora also said it would reengineer its small business incubator program, Accelerate, to focus on women entrepreneurs of color.

James said that while a number of smaller businesses have signed on to the 15 Percent Pledge, the campaign is initially aimed at four major retailers: Target, Whole Foods, Sephora and Barnes & Noble. Sephora is the first to agree to the effort.

“Many Black people choose to spend their money with these retailers; they are set up in our communities, and their sponsored posts are targeted to us,” James said. “If they value our money, it is time to value us as well and show us that we are represented.”

During a week of protest that spurred conversations about economic justice and reparations to the Black community, many brands have pledged large donations to nonprofits. But the ethos behind 15 Percent Pledge is that one-time donations don’t do enough to make a sustainable change that can help fight systemic racism.

After Target announced a $10 million donation to “longstanding partners such as the National Urban League and the African American Leadership Forum,” 15 Percent Pledge questioned whether that was the right move—pointing out that Target brings in more than 20 times that amount in sales each day.

According to Target’s investor data, the company pulled in over $23 billion in sales during the quarter that ended in February. That breaks down to roughly $250 million a day.

According to a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, the number of Black-owned businesses dropped a devastating 41% during the Covid-19 pandemic. It is unclear whether any of those businesses will have the resources to bounce back.

That data is what spurred James’ campaign.

“We want to create long-lasting change with long-term impact,” James said. “It’s about asking these huge corporations to rethink their entire business strategy as well as rethink business relationships in order to fairly represent the Black community.”

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@MaryEmilyOHara Mary Emily O'Hara is a diversity and inclusion reporter. They specialize in covering LGBTQ+ issues and other underrepresented communities.