In any other year, Aurora James it would have already made a dent in her gift list. “Historically, I have bought very early. Like, I’d start now, or maybe even last month,” James says by phone from Los Angeles. That’s to be expected from a woman: Woman of the Year Glamourthe estimate of who manages to juggle a large number of things with aplomb. There’s his accessory line, Brother Vellies, and an upcoming memoir called wild flower, out in May And there’s the growing Fifteen Percent Pledge, the nonprofit he founded in June 2020 with a challenge to retailers: Why not stock black-owned products in proportion to population data? If this job has prevented James from his early shopping, he will also fix it. This week, the Pledge will open its first pop-up store in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, inside a former newsstand that once housed international fashion magazines. Now, bright inspiration comes via Theophilio clothing, KNC Beauty makeup and Ghetto Gastro pantry staples.
“I feel like we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” James says, referring to the brick-and-mortar location and an accompanying e-commerce site, both of which are backed by Citi. Shelf space has been a constant talking point for James, so it’s only fitting that the Pledge finally has it, only here instead of the familiar 15 percent given to black-owned businesses, “we’re doing a one hundred percent.”
The new “Gifteen” store, open Friday through the end of January, is a must-see outlet for the Pledge at the corner of Spring and Lafayette, the downtown shopping center. “I wanted to pick a place that had a lot of traffic, but that also felt very meaningful to New Yorkers and felt rooted in history,” says James. magnet and David Bowie used to be up on the block; Jean-Michel Basquiat briefly had a studio in Crosby. Meanwhile, a creative ecosystem has found a home on these streets, zigzagging between Sephora (an early Pledge supporter) and Supreme (led by the creative director). Tremaine Emory) and to 63 Spring Street for copies Interview and Italian Vogue. When those doors open again on Black Friday, a reinvention of the phrase that James hasn’t lost, healing will reflect that breadth.
“I’m excited about Black Boy Knits because I feel like I always want to buy their stuff and can’t find it!” says James, making a list Jacques Agbobly(winner of this year’s CFDA Fashion Awards) design studio as part of the pop-up’s highlight reel. There will be paintings by the Nigerian artist Damilare Kanyinsola, jewelry from Johnny Nelson, i Brandon Blackwood handbags trimmed with Mongolian wool. A new eyeshadow palette from Danessa Myricks is a holiday magnet. “He’s also the most amazing human being — his stuff has, like, a 5,000-person waitlist in one day, it’s constantly going viral on TikTok,” says James. True to the spirit of the kiosk, there will be plenty of reading material. People in the art world will find black futures, for Kimberly Drew i Jenna Worthami The new black avant-garde for Anthony Sargent (profiled this month Vanity Fair). Ghetto Gastro’s Black Power kitchen is featured, along with its waffle mix and Sovereign Syrup for cozy winter mornings. There are also books for children Stacey Abrams i Meena Harris.
“If you look at the statistics, there are so few dollars that go to black-owned businesses during the holiday season,” says James. “There’s a lot of noise. All the big brands and giant companies are trying to compete for customers’ attention.” The Pledge pop-up and its expanded site, which showcases nearly 100 companies and artists, aim to tip that balance; a list of gift guides, including one from the founder, is in the works. “Honestly, I’m not just saying that, I’ll probably do all my holiday shopping in this space,” says James, whose partner, Benjamin Bronfman, is a likely beneficiary. “I’m like, Oh, maybe this Brooklyn Circus varsity jacket will work for Ben!”