Tracee Ellis Ross Goes “Mob Wife,” Jill Biden Surprises at Fifteen Percent Pledge Gala

Taking place amid the crush of parties surrounding the 2024 Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, the Fifteen Percent Pledge Gala — with its black-tie Black designer dress code — drew one of the most gorgeously turned out crowds of the entire bash-filled weekend.

Held for the first time in L.A. and hosted by Robin Thede, the gala raised money for the nonprofit equity organization Fifteen Percent Pledge, founded by Brother Vellies designer Aurora James, which asks retailers to devote 15 percent of shelf space to products from Black-owned brands.

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First Lady Jill Biden, wearing designer Sergio Hudson, made a surprise appearance at the event, held on the lot at Paramount Studios. She touted the achievements her husband’s administration has made to help small and minority-owned businesses (including doubling the amount of loans given by the government to small Black-owned companies) and praised James for founding the Fifteen Percent Pledge in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in 2020.

“Today, Black business ownership is growing at the fastest pace in 30 years. … When Aurora started this effort, she acknowledged people would think maybe it’s too big, or direct, maybe people would think it’s outrageous. Tonight, we agree, yes, it’s big; yes, it’s direct; yes, it’s even hard, but we also need to show her something else, that yes, it is possible,” said Biden.

Later, Tracee Ellis Ross — the founder of curly and natural hair care brand Pattern Beauty — took the stage to accept the Trailblazer Award, joking that her faux fur Fear of God coat fit into the current “mob wife” fashion trend, adding that said coat perhaps wasn’t the best choice for comfort. “I made a fashion choice tonight,” said Ross. “I’m also a 51 year old woman going through a change. It was bold, slightly dumb and the heater is on right here so bear with me.”

Erika Alexander - Queen Latifah - Tracee Ellis Ross - Fifteen Percent Pledge Gala - Los Angeles
From left, Erika Alexander, Queen Latifah and Trailblazer honoree Tracee Ellis Ross at the 3rd Annual Fifteen Percent Pledge Gala

Continued Ross, talking about her success in both the entertainment world and as an entrepreneur, “I am a Black woman in Hollywood and I am a Black founder in beauty so the pearly gates were never wide open to me. I’m not one to dwell on the tough moments, I like to use them and despite all the naysayers apparently I have made it to rich auntie status, and now trailblazer, so I stand here as said rich auntie and possibly also mob wife and also as the owner, founder and CEO of a multi-million-dollar global beauty brand.” Ross also added, “A Black founder, this is crazy guys, I know this room knows it but I’m going to say it real loud, a Black founder can make products that are for everybody.”

mma Grede and Aurora James attends the 3rd Annual Fifteen Percent Pledge Gala at Paramount Studios on February 03, 2024 in Los Angeles, California.
Emma Grede, in Aliette, and Aurora James, in Christopher John Rogers and Brother Vellies, attend the 3rd Annual Fifteen Percent Pledge Gala.

The gala — co-hosted by James and Skims and Good American entrepreneur Emma Grede, the chairwoman of the Fifteen Percent Pledge — also gave out grants to Black-owned businesses, with skincare brand Hanahana Beauty, founded by Abena Boamah-Acheampong, taking home a $200,000 achievement award, sponsored by Shop with Google, and fragrance company Brown Girl Jane, receiving a $100,000 Sephora beauty grant. A total of $350,000 in grants were given out, including to Brooklyn-based fashion brand Blackstock and Weber and Chicago’s Soap Distillery. The funds will be crucial to the brands’ ability to grow, said Grede, telling the audience that “on average, Black entrepreneurs receive less than one percent of venture funding.”

Salem Mitchell - Laura Harrier - Fifteen Percent Pledge Gala - Los Angeles
Salem Mitchell (left) and Laura Harrier at the 3rd Annual Fifteen Percent Pledge Gala

Guests, who enjoyed a fried chicken and waffle dinner by Ghetto Gastro, included Instagram’s Eva Chen, Google’s Stephanie Horton, stylists June Ambrose, Zerina Akers, Jason Rembert, Ugo Mozie and Bryon Javar, actresses Erika Alexander, Yvonne Orji, Laura Harrier, Dominique Thorne, Geffri Maya and Nicole Ari Parker, models Ashley Graham and Karlie Kloss, writer-producer Mara Brock Akil (wearing Harbison), designers Sami Miro, Brandon Blackwood and Peter Dundas, and Maurice Harris of L.A.’s Bloom & Plume, whose floral creations decorated the tables. At the end of the night, the legendary Sun Ra Arkestra took to the stage to play a jazz set wearing their signature Afrofuturist looks.

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