This year, Black History Month is hitting a little differently for a lot of people, and brands are responding accordingly. After a year of COVID-19, in which Black and Brown people were disproportionately impacted, and the racial justice uprisings in the summer of 2020, the expectation from consumers is that brands and retailers will take Black History Month more seriously. In lieu of one-off campaigns that can be perceived as performative, brands this year are aiming to create lasting impact by embracing partnerships and collaborations with Black creators, Black storytellers and nonprofits that amplify Black voices.
“As brands make plans to celebrate diverse communities through Black History Month and others, it’s important that they approach their campaigns with authenticity, empathy and cultural intelligence,” said Cassandra Blackburn, director of diversity, equity and inclusion at Sprout Social. “Center your campaign on advancing the mission and purpose of the celebration by seizing the opportunity to honor the accomplishments of Black Americans.”
1. Fireclay Tile X Architects Foundation
Architects Foundation, a philanthropic organization which undertakes “philanthropic efforts that lay the foundation of architecture’s future, by attracting, inspiring and investing in new and diverse generations of architects who will create inclusive spaces and places of tomorrow” partnered with decor brand Fireclay Tile to promote more Black women in architecture. According to an Instagram post from Fireclay Tile, only “0.4% of all licensed architects in the U.S.” are Black women. Fireclay Tile teamed up with Architects Foundation to create a “Diversity Advancement Scholarship” that will be used specifically for Black women pursuing architecture.
2. Under Armour X Baltimore
Under Armour (UA), a sportswear brand famous for their devotion to hometown Baltimore, partnered with Under Armour’s Black Employees Achieving Together (BEAT) and UA photographer Devin Allen to create a capsule collection that captures Baltimore’s goodness and grit. “This Black History Month collection might seem like it's all about sports, or Baltimore — but it's more than that. It's the resilience I see in my city,” said Allen. Allen first came to the public’s attention when his photo of the Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore landed on the cover of Time magazine.
Yahoo! News reports, “A portion of profits will help support local Baltimore nonprofit Wide Angle Youth Media, an adolescent development program that Allen and Under Armour have committed to working with to mentor and get cameras into kids’ hands.” The UNDR ARMR x DVNLLN line can be purchased on Under Armour’s ecommerce platform.
3. Peloton X The Steve Fund
In addition to a $100,000 investment to The Steve Fund, the “nation's only organization focused on supporting the mental health and emotional well-being of college students of color,” and its efforts to create “well-being resources and programs for young people of color and their families,” Peloton is working with Black designers and Peloton instructors to create a capsule collection of workout gear. According to Peloton, its instructors collaborated with Black artists, Hust Wilson, Sanford Greene, Temi Coker and Monica Ahanonu, to create four very cool fashion collections, including leggings, hoodies, shorts and tanks, all with designs unique to the artists. “From Lagos to California, Black art, music and culture is as rich as it is vibrant. By bringing the power of Black self-expression to our community, we’ll shine a light on its soul, influence and creativity.” The exposure and influence Peloton can offer artists and creators is apparent, especially after Peloton’s record-breaking year.
4. Target X New Voices Foundation
For the sixth year running, Target kicked off its Black Beyond Measure collection for Black History Month. The collection features the work of Black artists and designers, and many of the featured items include empowering messaging and imagery about Black experiences, Black innovators and Black heroes. From the Black Beyond Measure landing page on the Target website, shoppers can purchase items in the collection, which ranges from fashion to housewares, and also see profiles of Black Beyond Measure collaborators, including designer Jena Holliday and winners of the HBCU design challenge, whose work is featured in the collection.
Target also worked with various nonprofits, including New Voices Foundation, a “community-building effort designed to create a more inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem for women of color.” In September, the “New Voices + Target Accelerators $100,000 Virtual Pitch Competition” kicked off. The competition featured 10 entrepreneurs who are women of color pitching their business concepts in order to “receive critical funding combined with personalized coaching, mentoring and business skills development.”
“We are committed to using Target’s size, scale and resources to create positive change toward establishing racial equity. We are excited to support underrepresented founders through access to the knowledge we can share to help them grow their businesses and by partnering with organizations like New Voices to connect founders with the tools and resources to realize their goals,” said Carolyn Sakstrup, SVP of insights, strategy and innovation at Target.
5. Nordstrom X Black-Owned Brands
Major brands and retailers have been offering support to the Black community, including by promoting and selling the work of Black creators and makers. The 15 Percent Pledge encouraged retailers to commit to dedicating 15% of their shelf space to wares created by Black-owned businesses, with many brands signing on or showing similar commitments throughout the last year. This Black History Month, Nordstrom created an online storefront that explains the work the retailer is doing to promote Black businesses and work for racial justice. Nordstrom is committed to “delivering $500 million in retail sales from brands owned by, operated by or designed by Black and/or Latinx individuals by the end of 2025.” Many of the Black-owned beauty brands carried by Nordstrom are featured on the Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging digital storefront for purchase, with profiles of Black founders and business leaders highlighted. Nordstrom also announced a corporate partnership with the National Urban League.
Consumers Expect Brands & Retailers To Offer Authentic, Lasting Connection This Black History Month
Brands and retailers that are able to authentically create connections with the Black community and create partnerships and initiatives that last beyond February are more likely to develop and encourage affinity with shoppers. Consumers are increasingly likely to shop with brands that share their values, but brands that appear to only be giving lip service to important causes risk appearing inauthentic and exploitive. Advertising strategies this Black History Month that include meaningful content marketing or strategic partnerships with charitable causes, Black leaders and creators can increase visibility and amplify Black voices for the long term.
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