When Cipriana Cuevas saw the Fifteen Percent Pledge pop-up store in Manhattan, she knew she had to stop by. Not only was she able to pick up items for loved ones, Cuevas was able to show her support for a cause that often gets missed by mainstream retailers.
"Supporting small businesses, local businesses, and people of color is the best way for me to use the power of my wallet," she explained.
Black Americans make up 15 percent of the population and are more likely to start their own businesses compared to other ethnic groups, according to McKinsey. However, they face additional challenges getting capital, starting with $35,000 on average compared to the $107,000 their white counterparts have to launch their companies.
Underrepresentation is tied to many problems including lack of capital and business connections. Add to this additional problems from the pandemic. A 2020 Facebook study found that businesses in majority-minority areas reported a larger drop in sales than those in non-minority neighborhoods.
"Systemically and historically Black businesses don't get the same levels of support, visibility and resources as their counterparts," said LaToya Williams-Belfort, Fifteen Percent Pledge executive director.
The Fifteen Percent Pledge is a non-profit dedicated to changing the Black business narrative. It asks retailers to pledge 15 percent of their shelf space to Black-owned brands. So far 29 major companies have made the commitment to the shelf space. On average, companies that sign up only have 3 percent of their stock dedicated to Black-owned brands.
"It's a long road." Williams-Belfort admitted. "It takes a lot of work and a lot of adjusting systems and obviously bringing on Black-owned businesses into their ecosystems in the right ways."
The company also helps Black-owned brands to get to the next level by providing resources and support. Its first pop-up in the Soho neighborhood of Manhattan, which is open until January 15, is a one-stop shop that features items ranging from cookbooks from Ghetto Gastro to shoes from Brother Vellies. There are nearly 100 brands in the store, and they are all Black-owned.
It also features coffee from Margaret Nyamumbo, who launched Kahawa 1893 as a way to support female coffee producers. Nyamumbo, who is a third-generation coffee farmer from Kenya, started the company as a weekend hobby when she used to work on Wall Street. "Women make up about 80 percent of the labor in coffee, but they're underrepresented in the industry," she explained.
The brand is now the first Black female-owned coffee brand for sale in Trader Joes and Target.
"Shoppers should really support small businesses, especially minority brands, because they're facing unique challenges with a lot of other things that are going on in the economy, with inflation and rising costs," she said. "But small businesses tend to have really high-quality, well-curated products."