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Baseball caps sit on display for sale at a Gap Inc store in New York, USA, on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. (Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg)

Gap joins 15% Pledge as effort to boost black Americans expands

Baseball caps sit on display for sale at a Gap Inc store in New York, USA, on Wednesday, December 13, 2017. (Photo: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg)

The 15% Pledge is evolving as new companies — like Gap Inc — sign on.

The initiative, which began last year as an attempt to give products from Black-owned businesses 15 per cent of shelf space at retailers, has adapted to accommodate new companies that don’t sell outside brands. Gap is now promising to start new programmes and expand existing ones to develop black talent in order to increase representation in its workforce.

Gap announced a partnership with rapper and designer Kanye West in June last year, with plans to launch his Yeezy clothing line its stores this year. (Photo: Twitter @bouncenation254)

Aurora James, who launched the 15% Pledge Foundation, said she wanted to expand the project’s reach to allow more companies to get involved and to improve diversity in their workforces.

“The original ask is still there and is the biggest ask,” James said, referring to the shelf-space commitment. “Ultimately we’re also going to create an ecosystem of support.”

James started the undertaking last summer in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing by police with the goal of giving companies a tangible way to support the black community beyond the typical statements of support. Companies like Sephora and West Elm were among the first to sign on and each of the 18 brands that have joined work directly with her to set benchmarks and targets. The name — 15% — refers to the rough percentage of the population that Black people represent in the US.

Aurora James, who launched the 15% Pledge Foundation, said she wanted to expand the project’s reach to allow more companies to get involved and to improve diversity in their workforces. (Photo: Instagram @aurorajames)

Expanded internships

Gap seeks to expand internships, use relationships with universities as well as mentorship programmes to develop and identify workers in communities of colour — increasing its total such programmes by 15 per cent. The apparel maker has previously said it seeks to double black and Latinx workers at its US offices, according to Kisha Modica, who oversees Gap’s equality and diversity efforts.

The company is “taking a people focus to ensure that we have long-term change” Modica said in an interview. “This pledge helps challenge us to think about our existing programmes, and how we might have barriers or access points that get in the way of us realising our full potential.”

Widening the project’s focus “gives other companies who are perhaps sitting on the sidelines” a way to join, she said.

Currently, Gap’s overall US workforce is 18 per cent black, according to the company. A fifth of Gap’s store employees are black, while black workers represent four per cent at headquarters.

Signage sits on the facade of a Gap Inc store in the Central district of Hong Kong, China, on Sunday, July 19, 2020. (Photo: Roy Liu/Bloomberg)

James said she’s been working with Gap, which also owns the Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta brands, on its specific pledge for a couple of months. She acknowledged that not everything will change right away, but is hopeful it will put companies on the right path. She hopes more companies sign on as well, and not just the retailers that were the initial target of the pledge.

“Everyone needs to figure out the diet that works best for them,” James said.