Aurora James in the first-ever Fifteen Percent Pledge Christmas pop-up shop, just in time for Black Friday

In every other year Aurora James would have already made a dent in their gift list. “In the past, I shopped very early. As in, I’d start now, or maybe even last month,” says James over the phone from Los Angeles. That’s what you can expect from a woman – Woman of the Year, in shine‘s assessment – who manages to juggle many things with ease. There’s her line of accessories, Brother Vellies, and an upcoming memoir called wildflower, out in May. And there’s the ever-growing Fifteen Percent Pledge, the non-profit organization it launched in June 2020 with a challenge to retailers: why not stock black products relative to population data? If this work has kept James from her early bird purchases, she will sort them as well. This week, The Pledge is opening its first-ever pop-up shop in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, in a former newsstand that was once stacked with international fashion magazines. Now comes shiny inspiration from Theophilio clothing, KNC Beauty makeup and pantry staples from Ghetto Gastro.

“I feel like we’re putting our money where our words are,” James says, referring to the physical location and a companion e-commerce site, both of which are powered by Citi. Shelf space has been a constant talking point for James, so it’s fitting that the Pledge finally has some – only here, instead of the well-known 15 percent given to black-owned businesses, “we do 100 percent”.

The new Gifteen store, open Friday through late January, is a must-have ambassador for the promise at the corner of Spring and Lafayette – the downtown mall. “I wanted to choose a location that would have high traffic but also feel very meaningful to New Yorkers and felt rooted in history,” says James. Iman and David Bowie used to live around the block; Jean-Michel Basquiat briefly had a studio over in Crosby. Meanwhile, these streets have found a home for a creative ecosystem, zigzagging between Sephora (an early supporter of Pledge) and Supreme (led by the creative director). Tremaine Emory) and via 63 Spring Street for copies of interview and Italian Fashion. When those doors reopen on Black Friday — a reinvention of phrases not lost on James — the curation will reflect that breadth.

An early look at the Gifteen Holiday Shop edition, clockwise from top left: Danessa Myrick’s Lightwork IV Transcendence shadow palette; black future, by Jenna Wortham and Kimberly Drew; Supa Scrub by KNC Beauty; Sovereign Syrup and other Ghetto Gastro supplies; Brandon Blackwood’s Cortni bag.

“I’m obsessed with Black Boy Knits because I feel like I always want to buy his stuff and just can’t find it!” says James, listing Jacques Agbobly‘s Design Studio (winner of this year’s CFDA Fashion Awards Gala) as part of the pop-up’s highlight reel. There will be paintings by the Nigerian artist Damilare Kanyinsola, jewelry from johnny nelson, and Brandon Blackwood Handbags with Mongolian wool. A new eyeshadow palette from Danessa Myricks is a holiday magnet. “She’s also the most amazing person — her stuff has a waiting list of 5,000 people in one day, she just keeps going viral on TikTok,” says James. True to the kiosk spirit, there will be plenty of reading material. Art people will find what they are looking for black future, through Kimberly Drew and Jenna Worthamand The new black avant-garde through Antwaun Sargent (profiled this month vanity fair). Ghetto Gastro Black Power kitchen is represented alongside their waffle mix and sovereign syrup for cozy winter mornings. There are also children’s books Stacey Abrams and Meena Harris.

“If you look at the stats, there are so few dollars going into black-owned businesses during the holiday season,” says James. “There’s just so much noise. Every big brand and giant company is trying to compete for customer attention.” The Pledge pop-up and its expanded website, showcasing nearly 100 companies and artists, aim to improve that balance. A series of gift guides, including one from the Founder, are in the works. “Honestly – I’m not just saying this – I’ll probably do all my Christmas shopping in this room,” says James, whose partner, Benjamin Bronfman, is a likely beneficiary. “I’m like, oh, maybe this Brooklyn Circus varsity jacket will work for Ben!”

A depiction of the upcoming Fifteen Percent Pledge holiday pop-up, with a call for “the gift of Black”.

Courtesy of the Fifteen Percent Pledge. Aurora James in the first-ever Fifteen Percent Pledge Christmas pop-up shop, just in time for Black Friday

Charles Jones

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