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Belk Onboards New Black-Owned Brands

Belk is bringing on new vendors in an effort to diversify its assortment. The Charlotte, N.C.-based department store says it will carry more than a dozen new multi-cultural, minority-owned brands.

The new apparel, home, beauty, and accessories brands celebrate and honor the cultures of underrepresented communities. Belk currently lists products from 10 Black-owned brands on its website, including Culture Greetings, Eu’Genia Shea, Frères Branchiaux, Heritage Hill, Mantl, Pollynation, Rucker Roots, SPGBK Watches, That’s Smoooth and Tones of Melanin.

“Diversifying our product offerings is a key focus,” said Chris Kolbe, executive vice president and chief merchandising officer at Belk, in a statement. “We want our customers to feel represented and at home when they shop at Belk through the products they use and the clothes they wear. By partnering with a diverse group of business owners, we’re able to do just that, while also fueling the next generation of entrepreneurs.”

Belk already has made some tweaks to its merchandise, launching the private-label women’s wear brand Wonderly to replace its prior in-house brand, New Direction. It also debuted Wonderly Studio, an assortment of performance basics and lounge styles designed for comfort and movement.

The new brands come during a year of overhaul for Belk, which filed for bankruptcy last February. As part of the makeover, the department store launched its online Culture Shop that same month. Culture Shop is a curated boutique on Belk.com that supports and celebrates the culture of underrepresented communities year-round and includes multiple Black-owned brands.

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Belk’s Black business resource group, B.R.I.G.H.T., created the initiative in 2021 in partnership with the director of diversity and inclusion to diversify the retailer’s product offerings and vendors.

“The Culture Shop goes beyond category growth and new offerings,” Belk CEO Nir Patel said in a statement. “It’s about the creators and visionaries behind the brands and the communities they represent. We’re extremely proud of the expansion of our inventory, and will continue to actively add new diverse brands that best represent our customers and communities.”

The newly added brands reflect the personal experiences of their creators, like Eu’Genia Shea, a beauty brand founded by a mother-daughter duo to support and empower women worldwide.

Similarly, Tones of Melanin was created by Norfolk State University graduate Ashley Jones to bring awareness to more than 100 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) nationwide by merging streetwear with collegiate wear. SPGBK Watches, founded by two childhood friends, draws upon the strength and inspiration from the community, culture, and childhood experienced by its founders growing up in Fayetteville, N.C.

“As HBCU graduates, we’re extremely proud of Belk’s commitment to our community,” said Kwame Molden, co-founder of SPGBK Watches. “Teaming up with them allows us to not only provide our customers with more access to our watches throughout the Southeast, but to build on our passion for diversity through Belk’s Culture Shop. I used to shop at Belk in Fayetteville, N.C. with my mother growing up, and to see our watches in stores now, feels like a dream.”

Fashion has struggled to nurture diverse brands, according to a recent survey by digital procurement firm Jaggaer and supplier data platform Tealbook.

More than one-third of 100 global respondents in retail, consumer goods, transportation and logistics said they had difficulty identifying women-managed or minority-owned suppliers that also meet procurement criteria, while 27 percent said they encountered a lack of supplier-diversity data and insights that could have helped them discover these vendors.

Despite the challenges, more top fashion companies are making an effort to scale diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) initiatives companywide. In January, Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Neiman Marcus Group and VF Corp. earned a 100 percent rating as part of the Human Rights Campaign’s 2022 Corporate Equality Index (CEI).

These businesses were named in the HRC’s 2022 “Best Place to Work for LGBTQ+ Equality.” The CEI rating criteria has four key pillars: nondiscrimination policies, equitable benefits for LGBTQ+ workers and their families, support for an inclusive culture and corporate social responsibility.

And on the same day Belk unveiled its newest collections, Ulta Beauty said it is investing $50 million in its latest DEI commitments with a focus on brand amplification, assortment growth and equitable guest and associate experiences. This doubles the beauty retailer’s $25 million investment in 2021.

“After formally working together for a year, I’m hopeful that Ulta Beauty’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion has been a catalyst for other organizations to examine how they plan for and create foundational change,” said actress Tracee Ellis Ross, who is also Ulta Beauty’s DE&I advisor. “Ensuring employees can thrive and that customers are seen, heard and celebrated remains a clear business objective. The Ulta Beauty team brings passion and accountability to this necessary work and I am proudly committed to supporting this team.”

As part of the commitment, Ulta is dedicating approximately $25 million in media investments with multicultural platforms to nurture personal connections with Latine, Black and other multi-cultural beauty enthusiasts. Notably, 10 percent of this investment will be directly spent with Black and Latine owned media outlets, outpacing media industry benchmarks.

The company is also building upon its newly established MUSE platform with programming to magnify, uplift, support and empower Black voices in beauty. Ulta is also investing $8.5 million to brand marketing support for Black-owned, Black-founded and Black-led brands within the company’s assortment.