Vogue’s Fifteen Percent Pledge = More Black Freelance Jobs?

Vogue's Fifteen Percent Pledge is supposed to open opportunities for black freelancers. Are the rare decisions for the September issue a sign of sincerity?

Vogue's Fifteen Percent Pledge
Vogue’s Fifteen Percent Pledge follow Anna’s Wintour’s candid admission about the magazine’s treatment of black people. // Image edited by: Daniel Case (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Black freelancers, including photographers, writers and other creatives, should expect to see more opportunities to work with a fashion powerhouse thanks to Vogue‘s Fifteen Percent Pledge.

What Is The Fifteen Percent Pledge?

The Fifteen Percent Pledge calls on the world’s biggest retailers to devote 15% of their shelf space to black-owned businesses.

That number was determined by the percentage of Black people in America.

Aurora James, a fashion designer and the founder of Brother Vellies, launched the initiative.

“I saw all these people and companies saying how they stood with me and supported Black Lives Matter,” she said in a Vogue interview.

“I was reading it but not feeling it—there was an emotional disconnect. I processed it in two ways: first as a Black woman and then as a businessperson.”

So, James decided to ask for change– with a measurable target.

But retail shelf space is only the start of her vision.

“We want people to audit all areas of their companies—their C-suite, entry-level positions, freelancers, models, marketing, collaborators. Take a look, and then figure out why there aren’t any Black voices,” she said.

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Vogue’s Unglamourous Black History

The relationship between the Black community, Vogue and its editor editor-in-chief, Anna Wintour, is far from glamourous, and some may consider it downright shameful.

When Tyler Mitchell photographed Beyonce for the September 2018 issue, that was the first time in Vogue‘s 126-year history that a black photographer’s work was EVER showcased on the magazine’s cover.

Andre Leon Talley, a former editor-at-large for Vogue detailed the mistreatment he experienced working for the magazine in his book  The Chiffon Trenches: A Memoir and how it left him with “huge emotional and psychological scars.”

He said Wintour, whom he considered a friend, drove him to quit at one point. “Simple human kindness. No, she is not capable,” Insider quoted him as saying.

And this year, Wintour acknowledged and took full responsibility for an abrasive relationship with the Black community.

In an email to staff, she reportedly admitted the magazine had run images and stories that were “hurtful and intolerant.”

She acknowledged not doing enough to support Black staffers, and that Vogue had not “not found enough ways to elevate and give space to Black editors, writers, photographers, designers and other creators.”

“It can’t be easy to be a Black employee at Vogue, and there are too few of you,” she wrote in the email.

“I know that it is not enough to say we will do better, but we will — and please know that I value your voices and responses as we move forward,” she added.

Vogue’s Fifteen Percent Pledge

Perhaps Vogue‘s Fifteen Percent Pledge is one of the magazines do-better efforts.

And perhaps it could have wider implications.

A post on the Fifteen Percent Pledge’s Instagram account deems Vogue “the most influential and authoritative voice in fashion.”

And it says, “we could not be more proud that Vogue has stepped up to take on this responsibility. It is our hope that by holding them accountable, we can begin to improve the way Black people are represented not just in Vogue, but the media industry at large.”

Vogue’s September “Hope” Issue

Glimpses of Vogue covers created by Jordan Casteel (left) and Kerry James Marshall (right). -Vogue

For September 2020, Vogue is running the “Hope” issue.

“The idea is to explore hope in all its interpretations, elevating the voices of those, above all, who are determined to create positive change,” an article on the site explains.

Vogue recognizes that its covers “have been talking to us for 128 years” and for this issue, the magazine is releasing 26 covers.

More notably, Vogue did something that’s rarely happened in its history–the magazine commissioned two artists to create covers.

According to Vogue, artists Kerry James Marshall and Jordan Casteel were given complete freedom to decide who they painted and how that person was portrayed.

The only requirement was that the artists choose a dress by one of four Vogue-selected designers for the subject in the painting to wear.

Casteel’s chose to paint James.

“I believe that what Aurora is doing is hugely important in creating the long-term change that Black people deserve and this country owes us,” Casteel says.

“I see her as a light in a lot of darkness, and a potential for hope, a representative of change across all creative industries. What’s most exciting to me is being given artistic integrity and being able to choose the person to be my sitter—someone who reflects a portion of my own identity—and then to do that truly in the medium of my choice. This is the way that I speak to the world… It’s a really profound experience,” she added.

Marshall’s cover features a fictional character with a face that fits his profile of creating subjects with skin so dark it’s “at the edge of visibility.”

“If you’re going to be painting a face as black as I’m painting them, they can’t just be a cipher, like a black hole. They have to be mysterious but available. If you say, ‘Black is beautiful,’ you have to show it. And what I’m doing is showing it at the extreme. Yes, it is black—very black—and it is very beautiful,” Marshall told Vogue.

With the piece for the September cover, “I’m trying to build into her expression that she’s not dependent on the gaze of the spectator.”

“‘I’m here and you can see me, but I’m not here for you.’ That’s a critical element [of this piece.] The great word, ultimately, is going to be self-possessed. That’s what I’m aiming for,” said Marshall.

Is “Hope” A Sign of Change?

Do you think Vogue giving Marshall and Casteel covers is a sign of change?

Is it a small gesture to placate folks during a time of turmoil?

Or, is part of an effort to be on-trend when embracing Black business is trendy?

Do you think Vogue will fulfill its Fifteen Percent Pledge?

If so, for how long?

Please, share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Check Out: KnowGoodWords’ podcast on Toxic Culture at the LA Times

If you plan to get or gift a copy of Vogue’s special “Hope” issue…

Please do so through the Magzter portal below. Digital access is $1.99. Hard copies are $6.99. And one-year subscriptions are $19.99. You can preview the issue before you buy it, and here’s a 30% off coupon code: CJNMAGF30OFF.

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4 Comments

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  1. 1
    Kelle's Space

    This is an interesting post and it’s great to see Vogue taking a stand to support black creatives.
    Honestly speaking, it shouldn’t have taken bloodshed for people to realise minorities exist, and that we deserve the same opportunities as our white counterparts.

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