As Sean Combs faces a growing list of sexual-abuse lawsuits and steps aside from his chairman role at Revolt, fallout is mounting in another corner of his empire, with more than a dozen companies distancing themselves from his recently launched e-commerce platform Empower Global.
A total of 18 brands have confirmed to Rolling Stone that they have severed ties with the online marketplace for Black-owned businesses after R&B singer Casandra “Cassie” Ventura and three other women accused the producer turned entrepreneur of sexual assault and physical violence.
“This decision was made on the day that Casandra Ventura filed her lawsuit,” Annette Njau, founder of luxury-bag, eyewear, and apparel company House of Takura, tells Rolling Stone. “We take the allegations against Mr. Combs very seriously and find such behavior abhorrent and intolerable. We believe in victims’ rights, and support victims in speaking their truth, even against the most powerful of people.”
Annette Azan, founder of undergarment and shapewear line Nuudii System, says she also terminated her Empower Global account the day she learned of Ventura’s allegations. Lenard Grier, co-founder of No One Clothiers, says his company acted immediately as well. “While this decision was difficult due [to] the reverence we once held for Mr. Combs as a leader in business and entertainment, it was clearly the correct choice,” Grier tells Rolling Stone. “Our brand is founded on the belief that every individual is important and worthy of respect, regardless of gender, ethnicity, age, etc. The allegations against Mr. Combs are in direct conflict with these beliefs. In turn, we felt a moral imperative to end our relationship.”
Ashli Goudelock, founder of luxury skin-care brand Tsuri, says her company “unequivocally seeks to terminate” its association with Empower Global. “As a women-owned and -led company, we do not and will not linger in a gray area about the mistreatment of women,” she says.
The founder of high-end jewelry purveyor Fulaba — a featured brand on the site — says she believes Ventura and the other accusers, so her decision to leave the platform was clear. “Fulaba is all about empowering women and girls,” Haby Barry says. “We will not associate with anything or anyone that is counter to our values.”
Some of the exiting brands have already been wiped from the site. The exodus marks a rapid and astonishing freefall for the curated platform, given Combs’ splashy launch in July. Combs — who sunk more than $20 million into the venture — had gushed he was more excited about Empower Global than when he started his infamous record label, Bad Boy Entertainment, in 1993. “I’m going into these areas to diversify things and fight for our inclusion,” Combs said in July. “This is a platform about sharing power and empowering each other. This is something that is for my people. It’s a tipping point for us to wake up, start paying attention and supporting each other while taking responsibility and accountability.”
One company founder who’s sticking with the platform says many brands invested considerable time and capital “gearing up” for Empower Global’s launch because they believed in the “vision” of its prior CEO, Khadijah Robinson, who left in February. Robinson, a Spelman College and Harvard Law alumna, had joined Combs Enterprises in 2021 when Combs acquired her company, the Nile List, an e-commerce directory for Black businesses.
“[We] were eager to support what SHE created,” the founder, who asked to remain anonymous, wrote in an email. She said it was a “shock” when Robinson departed. (When contacted by Rolling Stone, Robinson confirmed her exit but declined to comment further.)
Other brands now heading for the exits say their decision was influenced by both the disturbing allegations against Combs and the platform’s allegedly lackluster performance. “We had a relationship with Empower Global from its earlier days because I was previously connected with the founder who sold the Nile List,” Rebecca Allen, founder of the eponymous high-end footwear company, tells Rolling Stone. “We enjoyed working with the team, but have not seen meaningful sales, so we were already planning to terminate our relationship at the end of this year. These harrowing allegations have expedited our decision, and we ended our partnership with Empower Global earlier this month.”
Similar to Amazon, Empower Global requires sellers to pay a $35 monthly subscription to maintain a presence on the site. Deon Graham, chief brand officer at Combs Enterprises, told Forbes that the platform also takes a 10 percent cut of sales as a marketplace fee, described as a “finder’s fee” needed to “keep the lights on.”
But Tsuri’s Goudelock adds that the platform “did not elevate sales or maintain communication.” BabyDonna, a company that makes sheer mineral sunscreen for all skin tones, says it “didn’t get much traction or sales on the platform,” so that played into its decision to leave, along with the news of the allegations.
Still, not everyone is rushing to jump ship. Out of more than 160 brands listed on the site and contacted by Rolling Stone, nine said they had no firm plans to leave. One business owner offered a defense of Combs: “Please leave that man alone.”
At least five said they carefully considered the allegations but are monitoring the situation before making a decision. “Our judicial system does allow for things to be proven in a court of law, and not just a court of public opinion, so we have decided as a firm to allow the time for all facts to come to light while cautiously keeping the relationship in place,” say April Shunta and KeKe LaSha of Anu’Crown Luxury Brims. “If more substantive details arise or negative connotations are starting to affect the brand’s standing due to these associations, we will revisit the termination.”
However, Shunta and LaSha admit they initially reached out to an Empower Global representative last month to terminate their agreement, due to the accusations and poor sales. They decided to remain after the rep waived the subscription fee for three months, emails reviewed by Rolling Stone show.
On Nov. 16, Ventura filed her blockbuster lawsuit alleging Combs raped her, beat her, and forced her to have sex with other men while he watched. (Tiffany Red, a singer-songwriter and Ventura’s close friend, came forward earlier this week in an open letter to corroborate some of her claims.)
Two more women stepped forward a week later. One of the women alleged Combs drugged and sexually assaulted her, and then showed video of the assault to others. The other woman alleged Combs and singer Aaron Hall took turns raping her and her friend in the early Nineties. She claimed Combs tracked her down a couple of days later and choked her until she passed out.
Last Wednesday, a Jane Doe filed another lawsuit against Combs, claiming he and two other men “gang raped” her at Combs’ recording studio in Manhattan when she was 17 years old, in 2003.
Combs has vehemently denied the allegations from all four women. “Enough is enough. For the last couple of weeks, I have sat silently and watched people try to assassinate my character, destroy my reputation and my legacy. Sickening allegations have been made against me by individuals looking for a quick payday. Let me be absolutely clear: I did not do any of the awful things being alleged. I will fight for my name, my family, and for the truth,” Combs said in the statement to Rolling Stone, sent moments after the fourth lawsuit was filed. (Combs reached a private settlement with Cassie the day after she sued, and claimed through his lawyer that the pact was not an admission of any wrongdoing.)
Beyond his music, media, and e-commerce ventures, Combs also is known for his once highly lucrative apparel line Sean John, the AQUAhydrate water line he invested in with actor Mark Wahlberg in 2012, and his joint ventures with liquor giant Diageo that made him the face of Ciroc vodka and DeLéon tequila. (AQUAhydrate did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.)
In the wake of the sexual-assault allegations, Diageo is asking a New York judge to block Combs’ request for a court injunction that would allow him to use incoming marketing dollars to splash his face on new advertising for DeLéon. Diageo said such a campaign would be “devastating” for the brand.
While the companies that partnered with Empower Global are generally small bespoke businesses compared with Diageo, they say mass-market brand management is just as important to them as a billion-dollar behemoth. One company now seeking to sever its relationship with Empower Global says it was even taking the extra step of seeking financial redress from Combs.
“We have decided to terminate our partnership with Empower Global, founded by Sean ‘P Diddy’ Combs, because our brand promotes the empowerment and elevation of women,” Stephen Goudeau, founder of luxury fashion label Stephen Goudeau, says. “We are seeking a full refund of fees paid to the entity.”