Hudson's Bay in Toronto.

Hudson’s Bay has committed to the 15 Percent Pledge, in the latest sign of growing support for the nonprofit organization’s call for retailers to allocate 15 percent of their shelf-space to Black-owned brands.

Joining the 15 Percent Pledge means that beginning with the fall 2021 season, at least 15 percent of all new brands purchased for the Hudson’s Bay stores and for thebay.com will be Black-, Indigenous- or people of color-owned or designed. Hudson’s Bay is also striving for 15 percent of the design talent behind the creation of its owned brands to be Black, Indigenous or people of color.

“Our commitment through the 15 Percent Pledge is part of a holistic change to how we do business, and will hold us accountable to providing opportunity and delivering products that are representative of the diversity of our customers, associates and communities,” said Iain Nairn, president and chief executive officer of Hudson’s Bay. Hudson’s Bay, a division of the Toronto-based Hudson’s Bay Co., he said, has a responsibility “to drive equity and inclusion in Canada.”

The 15 Percent Pledge, founded in 2020 by Aurora James, who is also the creative director of fashion label Brother Vellies, is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit advocacy organization urging major retailers to commit 15 percent of their shelf-space to Black-owned businesses. In Canada, the 15 Percent Pledge has been extended to Indigenous people and people of color as well. The initiative was born in the wake of multiple acts of social injustice and police brutality in the U.S. with a lack of accountability for the systemic issues at play.

So far, 22 companies — including Hudson’s Bay — have committed to the 15 Percent Pledge. Sephora was the first, while Indigo was the first Canadian retailer to make the pledge. Other companies that have made the pledge include Gap Inc., Crate & Barrel, Macy’s Inc., InStyle U.S., Rent the Runway, West Elm, Moda Operandi, Yelp, J. Crew, MedMen and Kith, as well as Vogue U.S. and Next Model Management.

“This is a humanity movement toward economic justice and equality, and by the way, it’s an incredibly smart business move,” James told WWD in an interview.

James, who hails from Mississauga, a city neighboring Toronto on Lake Ontario, said, “Hudson’s Bay was our real number-one hope when we launched 15 Percent Pledge Canada…it’s not that easy to redirect a ship that was sailing on the same course for a really long time. I am grateful they are taking the journey because we need them.

Aurora James 

“I am a Canadian. Hudson’s Bay is woven into the fabric of my DNA,” James added. “It’s encouraging to see this iconic brand take a pivotal step toward driving equity across retail. This is the first time Hudson’s Bay has made a commitment like this in its 350-year history, and we hope their dedication and leadership encourages other international retailers to support brands that are representative of their diverse populations.” James said conversations with Hudson’s Bay began last July, around when the 15 Percent Pledge posted on social media in Canada a call for retailers to come to the table.

Asked whether she is satisfied with the degree of retail participation in the movement to date, James replied: “I am very excited and proud of retailers who are coalescing to get this work done. But I don’t think that much about businesses not moving the needle. I can’t spend time fretting over sinking ships. I have to worry about the forward momentum of consumers, of this country, and the planet.”

When retailers take the pledge, James said, “It’s not meant for anyone to get to 15 percent overnight. It has to happen slowly, methodically, intelligently. It’s really about partnering,” to achieve the goal over time.

The partnership involves accountability, support and consulting services with the goal of advocating for and supporting Black-owned businesses. Retailers sign a contract, and quarterly reviews or “audits” are undertaken whereby the parties get together to review systems in place at the retailer geared to achieve the 15 percent goal, and to review data that helps assess progress. In addition, the 15 Percent Pledge recommends and helps retailers discover brands and businesses, essentially building new sourcing pipelines. “Sephora has an accelerator program to mentor women of color, and I take part in that accelerator program as well,” James said.

The figure of 15 percent was chosen for the organization’s name as it aligns with the roughly 15 percent of the population in the U.S. that is Black.