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Designer Aurora James Calls on Retailers to Commit to Black-Owned Businesses

As the US sinks into further turmoil over the death of another black man by the hands of the police, the Brother Vellies owner is asking the fashion industry to do more to combat systemic racism.
Brother Vellies designer Aurora James is calling on retail to support black-owned businesses. | Collage by BoF
By
  • Sarah Kent,
  • Chavie Lieber

NEW YORK, United States —  Fashion has responded to the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis, with the usual outpouring of supportive messages on social media. But some are calling on the industry to do more.

Designer Aurora James has laid out a manifesto asking stores including Sephora, Net-a-Porter, Target and Saks Fifth Avenue to commit to buying 15 percent of their 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,” the creative director and founder of Brother Vellies wrote in an Instagram post. “This is the least you can do for us. We represent 15 [percent] of the population and we need to represent 15 [percent] of your shelf space.”

https://www.instagram.com/p/CAyttttJRSE/

The fashion industry has a long history of racism and cultural appropriation. Designers have mined black culture for creative inspiration, with little acknowledgement or benefit to the communities they exploited. Sneakers and streetwear, important cornerstones of style and culture in black communities, were appropriated by high-end fashion brands while the industry continued to promote a narrow image of white beauty, only rarely featuring people of colour in ads or catwalk shows.

Those patterns have been gradually changing, pushed by social expectations and an increasingly diverse consumer base, but the industry remains plagued by a lack of inclusivity and problems with systemic racism.

In the past few years, brands including Gucci and Dior have come under fire for putting out racially-insensitive ads and products. Fashion media companies, including Condé Nast and The Business of Fashion, among others, have been called out on social media and other platforms for everything from lack of staff diversity to cultural appropriation.

In retail, companies have a long track record of discriminating against shoppers of colour. In 2014, Barneys paid $525,000 in a settlement after an investigation found the store was racially profiling black shoppers. Last year, a former Moschino employee filed a suit against the luxury fashion brand for racial discrimination, revealing that the company allegedly tailed black shoppers in stores and used the code name "Serenas" for them (referring in the athlete Serena Williams). In 2018, Nordstrom issued a public apology to the families of three black men who were wrongfully accused of shoplifting in an off-price Nordstrom Rack store in Brentwood, Mo.

James’ call for more substantive action comes at a moment of reckoning for America. Floyd’s death is just the latest instance of police violence that has resulted in the death of an African-American man. It has become a flashpoint for long-simmering anger, sparking days of protests across cities in the US.

Many fashion brands have responded with slick anti-racist messaging. Nike released a short film, urging Americans to speak up and inverting its "Just Do It" tagline to urge "For once, don't do it. Don't pretend there's not a problem in America." In a rare move, Nike's biggest rival Adidas retweeted the campaign.

But such moves have not been universally embraced, with some pundits criticising brands for failing to do more. Some companies have pledged to take further steps. Beauty brand Glossier said it would donate $500,000 to organisations focused on combating racial injustice and allocate a further $500,000 in grants to support black-owned beauty businesses.

James is pushing for more systemic change to promote black-owned businesses. Celebrities and designers, including Vanessa Hudgeons, Karla Welch and Rebecca Minkoff endorsed the idea, leaving supportive comments in James' Instagram feed (James did not respond to a request for additional comment).

Such a commitment from retailers would be a radical shift that would require investing in or scaling up black-owned businesses. While there are several large brands led by black people in beauty — including Fenty Beauty, Pat McGrath Labs and Carol's Daughter — there are but a handful of black-owned, high-end fashion businesses that currently make up the top 20 brands sold at luxury retailers.

“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,” James wrote. “In fact I think it’s just a start. You want to be an ally? This is what I’m asking for.”

Below is a list of black-owned fashion and beauty brands, which we will be adding to continually throughout the day. If you see someone we missed, please let us know by emailing Lauren.Sherman@businessoffashion.com:

A A K S, A-Cold-Wall, Agnes Baddoo, Allëdjo, Aliétte, Ama Nwoke, Andrea Iyamah, Ashya,Bello|Edu, Bianca Saunders, Blk+Grn, Botter, Brett Johnson, Briogeo, Brother Vellies, Carol's Daughter, Casely-Hayford, CD Greene, Christopher John Rogers, Cushnie, Dalasini, Darryl Brown, DemestikDiarrabluDur DouxDuro Olowu, Dyne, EdasEzie NYFaded NYCFATRAFe Noel, Fear of GodFenty Beauty, Frère, Fubu, GildedGlemaudGloGirl CosmeticsGoodeeHanifaHarwell GodfreyHelen CoutureHeron PrestonIAMISIGO, Joe Fresh GoodsJohnny NelsonKaela KayKahindoKahmuneKAYADUAKa'ili Skincare, Kenneth IzeKHIRY,  Kintu New York, KkereléLaQuan Smith, LaurusLavieByCk, lemlem, LIHA BeautyLisa Folawiyo, Lisouthe Lotte,  Lukhanyo MdingiMaison 10Maki OhMarie Hunter BeautyMasura Studios , Mateo New York, Martine RoseMatte, Maxhosa AfricaMcMullen, Mented Cosmetics, Menyelek, Mikhel AlexanderMinkuMischo Beauty, MMUSOMAXWELLMowalolaMs CampbellNicholas Daley, Nubian Skin, off-white, OloriONALAJAOnyii & Co, Orange Culture Nigeria, Ozwald BoatengOui the People, Pat McGrath Labs, Phlemuns, Piper Wai, Public School, Pyer Moss, Radswan, Re-VitylRoyal Jelly Harlem, Rzr DenimSammy B, Sergio Hudson, Sheila Rashid, Sincerely Tommy, Sindiso KhumaloSpencer BaduStella Jean, SukeinaTabii Just, Telfar, Thebe Magugu, Third CrownThula Sindi, Tokyo JamesTongoroTracy Reese, Tsemaye Binitie, Unsun Cosmetics, Uoma Beauty, Wales Bonner, William Okpo, Yeezy, Yoah.

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