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Macy’s, America’s Largest Department Store, Takes Aurora James’ 15 Percent Pledge to Boost Black Businesses

As the mandate for greater levels of diversity and inclusion across corporate America heightens, Macy’s is stepping up its efforts.

Aurora James, the founder of Brother Vellies and a foremost voice in the fashion industry on issues of diversity and inclusion, announced today that the department store has taken the 15 Percent Pledge, a nonprofit organization James launched this summer to help boost Black brands. The pledge, much like its moniker, asks retailers to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned labels.

James, the Footwear News Achievement Awards Person of the Year, shared the news on her personal Instagram account, commending Macy’s, the largest department store in the United States, on its decision to accept the challenge.

“Their bold commitment to hit 15% across all categories and support Black owned businesses across this country is monumental,” James wrote. “This Pledge represents billions of dollars being allocated to support Black businesses, Black people and Black communities. I could not be more proud of the brilliant team at Macy’s and the work we have all done over the past few months and will continue to do in the coming years. There is a difference between those who commit and those who curtail and Black people in this Country deserve commitments. Thank You! Onward and upward, it’s time to celebrate!”

The initiative, built around the fact that Black people represent 15% of the U.S. population, encourages retailers to commit to dedicating that same percentage of their shelf space to businesses owned and created by Black people. The pledge has already been signed by Rent the Runway, Sephora and Vogue.

Macy’s, which was among the first major fashion retail names to hire a chief diversity and inclusion officer in 2018, has been increasingly vocal about its strategy to boost diversity and inclusion across its enterprise. That strategy, which was revamped last year, is composed of a “five-part approach” that includes a requirement for 50% representation of gender/gender identity, ethnicity, age, size and disabled persons in its advertising by 2020; 30% ethnic diversity at the senior director level and above by 2025; and a plan to achieve diverse supplier spend of at least 5% by 2021.

Macy’s, early last month, indicated its intent to sign the 15 Percent Pledge in a set of slides filed with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. It the did not disclose a timeline for when it expects to reach the 15% shelf space goal but noted that it would hold a workshop about the initiative in April 2021. It also indicated in the slides, part of an 8-K filing with the SEC, that it would feature Black designer collaborations within its private brands.

Macy’s last year celebrated the 10-year anniversary of its Workshop at Macy’s, a development program designed to nurture and support minority-and women-owned businesses. To date, the program, created by Macy’s chief diversity officer Shawn Outler, has helped more than 125 minority women-owned companies, including vegan shoe brand Loly in the Sky and plus-sized women’s label Eleven60 — both of which are sold at Macy’s. The Workshop has also expanded to include veteran- and LGBTQ-owned businesses as classifications.

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