Emma Grede Talks Fifteen Percent Pledge: ‘Retailers Need to Get on Board or Get Out’

When designer Aurora James founded the Fifteen Percent Pledge nonprofit in 2020, the goal was to call on major retailers and corporations to commit a minimum of 15% of their annual purchasing power to Black-owned businesses, to create a more equitable economic future.

The historic lack of accountability for major companies on their diversity initiatives has only highlighted the systemic issues at play here. But with the pledge, leaders at the nonprofit say Black brands are finally finding opportunities.

“So much of our work isn’t just about asking the retailers to take the pledge, but it’s about removing all the barriers of entry,” Fifteen Percent Pledge chairwoman Emma Grede told FN at the nonprofit’s first benefit gala on Saturday in New York. “Just getting into a retailer, having all the hurdles that it takes to get there, the team, you need the infrastructure, the deposits, the late fees — all of those things. And I think it means an enormous amount to the industry to know that somebody like Aurora is in your corner. She’s experienced firsthand the struggles of so many young Black designers in this country.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 02: (L-R) LaToya Williams-Belfort, Selby Drummond, Aurora James and Emma Grede attend the 2022 Inaugural Fifteen Percent Pledge Benefit Gala on April 02, 2022 in New York City. (Photo by Bennett Raglin/Getty Images for Fifteen Percent Pledge)
(L-R) LaToya Williams-Belfort, Selby Drummond, Aurora James and Emma Grede attend the 2022 Inaugural Fifteen Percent Pledge Benefit Gala.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Fifteen Percent Pledge

So far, 28 companies across three countries have committed to the Fifteen Percent Pledge, including Gap Inc., Nordstrom and Macy’s. But to create change at scale, more corporations need to get on board. James said if the national big-box chains take the pledge, $1.4 trillion could be driven to Black-owned businesses.

On why more retailers haven’t made the commitment, Grede said, “It goes back to systemic racism in this country, and that’s what it comes down to.” The businesswoman — who’s at the helm of the Kardashian’s biggest brands as the co-founder and CEO of Good American, a founding partner of Skims, and the co-founder of Kris Jenner’s cleaning line Safely — knows firsthand that consumers want to align with brands with purpose. 

She added, “My belief is that consumers really want to see retailers stock a wide range of different brands and they also want to know that a retailer aligns with their values. Retailers need to get on board or get out. Because the ones that are getting into this movement right now are the forward-thinking ones. They’re the ones that are seeing the shift.”

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