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Sephora to dedicate 15 per cent of shelf space to Black-owned businesses


TextAlex Peters

Its the first business to sign up to the ‘15 Per cent Pledge’

Sephora has announced that it will dedicate 15 per cent of its stores’ shelf space to the products of Black-owned businesses.

The beauty store is the first major retailer in the US to commit to the “15 Per cent Pledge”, which challenges retailers to reflect the racial make-up of the population – which is 15 percent Black – in the products they stock. The project was founded by Aurora James, a creative director in Brooklyn.

“We were inspired to make the 15 per cent Pledge because we believe it’s the right thing to do, for our clients, our industry and for our community,” Artemis Patrick, Sephora’s executive vice president and chief marketing officer, said in a statement. 

“Ultimately, this commitment is about more than the prestige products on our shelves. 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.”

Sephora will be working closely with James to reach the target. Currently, the beauty retailer stocks just nine black-owned brands, among the more than 290 it sells.

Sephora was one of the four major brands to whom James addressed the pledge on June 1 when it was launched. Of the original four, which includes Target, Whole Foods, and Shopbop, it is the first and remains the only retailer to commit to the pledge. James is hoping that will change.

“A company like Target would prefer to just donate $10 million instead of actually committing to a long-term change and committing to being accountable. I think that’s the difference between these donation requests versus the 15 per cent Pledge,” she told Vogue, explaining that in the long-term, these kinds of commitments will create more meaningful change than donations.

“Sephora is such a huge business and their willingness to jump on board and do this in such a meaningful, holistic way really strips away the excuses that a lot of other retailers might have.”

James highlights a particular struggle for beauty brands and wider corporations at present, grappling with their solidarity responses and promises to do better by their Black staff and patrons. The discrepancy between what companies are projecting publicly and the reality behind the scenes has caused criticism in recent weeks. On Tuesday, L’Oréal Paris released a statement addressing its treatment of model and activist Munroe Bergdorf which was brought back to public attention last week when the brand posted in solidarity with the Black community. The support received widespread backlash from many who felt it was hypocritical in light of the company ending its relationship with Bergdorf over a statement she made denouncing white supremacy and racism. In response L’Oréal Paris has set up a Diversity and Inclusivity Board which Bergdorf will have a role in and donated to LGBTQ+ organisations. 

MAC Cosmetics Belgium released an apology and plan of action after Karla Quiñonez Leon, an Afro-Latina make-up artist, came forward about the racism she experienced while working for the brand. Estee Lauder Companies, meanwhile, increased its donation to Black-supporting organisations and pledged to diversify its workforce after pressure from employees who were unhappy with the company’s initial response and the presence of Ron Lauder, a big Trump donor, on the board.  

It was discrepancies such as these which led Uoma founder Sharon Chuter to start the #PullUpOrShutUp challenge, a campaign that calls on beauty brands to be transparent about the number of Black people they have in corporate and leadership positions within their company with the aim of holding these brands accountable for their solidarity and bringing awareness to the lack of Black people in these roles.

Similarly, the pledge to represent 15 per cent Black-owned business, James asserts, should bolster a longer term strategy.

“It’s not just writing a purchase order for black-owned businesses and putting them online and hoping they do well,” James told the New York Times. “I want them to take their time and map out a strategy — what that onboarding looks like, how to support them with marketing, how to make sure they’re connected to the right people.”

In Sephora’s case, the brand has promised to help Black-owned businesses connect with venture capitalists and investment opportunities, and work on its ongoing development programmes to “focus on women of colour”.

If you want to bypass the beauty retailer until it has achieved its target and support Black-owned businesses directly, we’ve put together a list of 60 beauty brands that’s a great place to start. Read here.

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