In any other year, Aurora James would have already made a dent in her gift list. “Historically, I’ve shopped very early. As in, now I would start, or maybe even last month,” James says by phone from Los Angeles. Such is to be expected from a woman—Woman of the Year, in Glamour’s estimation—who manages to juggle a great number of things with aplomb. There’s her accessories line, Brother Vellies, and a forthcoming memoir called Wildflower, out in May. And there’s the ever-growing Fifteen Percent Pledge, the nonprofit she founded in June 2020 with a challenge to retailers: Why not stock Black-owned products in proportion to population data? If this work has kept James from her early-bird shopping, it will also get her sorted. This week, the Pledge is set to open its very first pop-up shop in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood, inside a former newsstand once piled high with international fashion magazines. Now, glossy inspiration arrives by way of Theophilio clothing, KNC Beauty makeup, and pantry staples by Ghetto Gastro.
“I feel like we’re putting our money where our mouth is,” says James, referring to the physical location and an accompanying e-commerce site, both supported by Citi. Shelf space has been an ongoing talking point for James, so it’s fitting that the Pledge finally has some—only here, in lieu of the familiar 15 percent given over Black-owned businesses, “we’re doing a hundred percent.”
The new “Gifteen” shop, opening Friday through the end of January, is an unmissable emissary for the Pledge at the corner of Spring and Lafayette—shopping central for the downtown set. “I wanted to choose a place that was high traffic, but also felt super meaningful to New Yorkers and felt entrenched in history,” says James. Iman and David Bowie used to live up the block; Jean-Michel Basquiat briefly had a studio over on Crosby. All the while, a creative ecosystem has found a home in these streets, zigzagging between Sephora (an early Pledge supporter) and Supreme (led by creative director Tremaine Emory) and over to 63 Spring Street for copies of Interview and Italian Vogue. When those doors reopen on Black Friday—a reinvention of phrase not lost on James—the curation will reflect that breadth.
“I’m excited about Black Boy Knits because I feel like I always want to shop his stuff and just can’t find it!” says James, listing Jacques Agbobly’s design studio (a winner at 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 by Johnny Nelson, and Brandon Blackwood handbags trimmed in Mongolian wool. A new eye shadow palette by Danessa Myricks is a holiday magnet. “She’s also the most amazing human—her stuff has, like, a 5,000-person wait list in a day, she’s just constantly going viral on TikTok,” James says. True to the newsstand spirit, there will be reading material aplenty. Art-world folk will find Black Futures, by Kimberly Drew and Jenna Wortham, and The New Black Vanguard by Antwaun Sargent (profiled in this month’s Vanity Fair). Ghetto Gastro’s Black Power Kitchen is represented, alongside their waffle mix and Sovereign Syrup for cozy winter mornings. There are children’s books, too, by Stacey Abrams and Meena Harris.
“If you look at the stats, there are so few dollars that go toward Black-owned businesses during the holiday season,” says James. “There’s just so much noise. Every huge brand and giant company is trying to compete for customers’ attention.” The Pledge pop-up and its expanded site, showcasing nearly 100 businesses and artists, aim to tilt that balance; a slate of gift guides, including one from the founder, is in the works. “Honestly—I’m not just saying this—I probably will do all of 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 is going to work for Ben!”