BIPOC Voices, Fashion

How is Fashion focusing on Scholarships for Minorities?

Give all people a chance.

words by: Natasha Marsh
May 1, 2022

Scholarships are a key step in diversifying the fashion industry, but actually changing the status quo requires doing away with all the gatekeeping. There’s a case to be made for providing 360-degree support to one candidate, as opposed to, say, a few thousand dollars to several. But you have to ask: Are you opening doors for a successful career in this industry? Why is that? Because that’s the goal.


Companies participating in diverse fashion scholarships

Early leaders in this movement have been Gucci, who in 2019, set up a need-based scholarship program specifically for students with diverse backgrounds. Additionally, the Fashion Scholarship Fund (FSF) has a long history of supporting students from underserved communities who want to study fashion. They achieve this by partnering with corporate sponsors on scholarships and internships. The late Virgil Abloh is one of its most famous partners. The Virgil Abloh “Post-Modern” Scholarship Fund, targeting Black students, lives on, having recently raised $25.3 million from a posthumous sneaker auction.


This movement has gained a lot more momentum following George Floyd’s death in June 2020. Companies like Burberry, Capri Holdings, American Eagle, Brandon Maxwell, Net-a-Porter, Pacsun, Coach, Macy’s, etc., are introducing ways to racially diversify fashion’s talent pipeline financially and professionally. Fashion schools are, as well.


Scholarship assistance at FIT

Fashion schools, plagued by (valid) accusations of systemic racism, have also spent the last couple of years working on ways to diversify their student bodies and provide more equitable experiences to those students through devoted scholarships and other career-focused programs. At FIT, the newly launched Social Justice Center (SJC) offers opportunities for corporations to join FIT in helping to develop a pipeline for BIPOC youth “poised to fill the ranks of talented, educated, creative employees.”


The SJC has support from industry leaders, including Capri Holdings, Tapestry, G-III, Prada, Carolina Herrera, Saks Fifth Avenue and Ralph Lauren, as well as others. FIT’s SJC has two goals: The first, is to find and make sure BIPOC students are prepared with the resources they need to be competitive new hires once they step into their industry. The second, is to make sure participating partners creative experiences for professional development so students can move up the corporate ladder post-grad.


HBCU partnerships

In June 2021, Gap Inc., Harlem’s Fashion Row, and ICON360 (a nonprofit subsidiary), announced the winners of the Closing the Gap scholarships. These scholarships gave more than $500,000 across 10 fashion departments at HBCUs. Gap and HFR aim to strengthen educational opportunities for the next generation of Black fashion leaders. The companies also provide mentorship and internship opportunities to students in each of the winning programs.


One student says, “The rise in diversity-led scholarships and industry initiatives such as ICON360 has been a blessing to students like myself wanting to pursue [a career in] the fashion industry without financial strain.”


The increased availability of scholarships and funds to HBCU fashion programs helps students of color in more ways than one. Students are now more prepared for classes and push their creativity, now that resources are readily available. Students can obtain supplies that support their creative ideas—providing more creative freedom.


The Closing the Gap Initiative also helped provide computer lab updates at one HBCU—assisting in merchandising, retail buying, product development, and design—in tandem with drapery and dressmaking funding. Lastly, $5,000 scholarships, along with a fashion study tour were given to 12 winners and two Fashion, Merchandising, and Design faculty members.


Initiatives and scholarships like these have already proven to be successful. For instance, the number of students of color entering the fashion industry at top companies after graduation has skyrocketed. Plus, their career tracks are stabilized—leading to more diversity in top leadership positions. Success is simply seeing faces like my own at every level of the fashion industry.


In related news, learn why and how Ralph Lauren partnered with alum for their HBCU-inspired collegiate collection.


Photo via Nadine Ijewere/Ralph Lauren