As part of its commitment to help future generations, the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation has made a $2 million commitment to support scholarships for Black, African and African American students at historically Black colleges and universities through the United Negro College Fund.
Students at Morehouse College, Spelman College and 10 additional HBCUs stand to benefit from the scholarships. The foundation-funded program is in step with the Ralph Lauren Corp.’s efforts to address systemic racism and racial injustice by using education as a way to create equity in the fashion industry and beyond.
Ralph Lauren, executive chairman and chief creative officer of Ralph Lauren Corp., said: “Students represent the best of the human spirit — passion, curiosity and boundless dreams. When all students have an equal chance to succeed, their dreams become realities and inspire us all.”
Morehouse College partners with organizations like the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation that “believe that equity begins in education,” according to the school’s president David Thomas. Martin Luther King Jr. and Spike Lee are among the graduates of Morehouse, which is the only historically Black college that is dedicated to educating men.
Spelman College president Mary Schmidt Campbell said the scholarship program will allow high-achieving students in need of financial support to graduate with less debt, [and be] ready to step into their careers.”
In addition to Morehouse and Spelman, the scholarship grants will benefit eligible students at 10 other HBCUs over a five-year stretch. Working with the UNCF, those institutions will be selected using such criteria as unmet funding needs, enrollment rates; proximity to Ralph Lauren Corp.’s U.S. operations, and which institutions offer disciplines and curricula that are geared toward careers in retail and organizations with which Ralph Lauren Corp. is increasing its talent pipelines.
Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, many brands used their social media accounts or executive leaders to publicly voice the need to improve diversity and equity in the fashion industry across the board, including runway casting, advertising, corporate offices, executive board rooms and beyond. Education is crucial to this advancement, and also serves to expose students to new opportunities and jobs to pursue.
The follow-through on these initiatives varies depending on the corporations and brands. This fall’s first Black in Fashion Council Human Rights Campaign report made clear that the industry is leagues away from where it needs to be in relation to diversity and inclusion. The report’s executive summary highlighted that “fashion has long upheld white supremacist ideologies, and has created and glorified standards of beauty and artistic expression that are explicitly anti-Black.”
While 77 percent of the report’s participants said they conducted targeted recruiting opportunities to attract Black talent, including through job fairs, HBCUs and job boards and online posting that target the Black community, the report acknowledged “that Black tokenism exists and roles for Black executives are scarce and therefore difficult to obtain.” That scarcity affects Black professionals to view Black peers as “threats based on the acceptance that progress for one likely means regression or stagnation for the other,” according to the report.
Praising the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation’s expanded partnership with the United Negro College Fund and how more Black students will benefit from the increased investment, the UNCF’s president and chief executive officer Dr. Michael Lomax said: “African American communities remain disproportionately impacted by the lack of resources needed to go to and through colleges.”
While the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation’s new initiative is a significant investment in helping HBCUs’ students, several fashion brands have been trying to supports HBCUs in different ways. Earlier this fall Tiffany & Co. named the five beneficiaries of its $2 million scholarship pledge to HBCUs, a program that is being rolled out with Beyoncé’s BeyGood foundation and Jay-Z’s Shawn Carter Foundation. (The couple star in Tiffany’s “About Love” campaign.) In June, Gap Inc., Harlem’s Fashion Row and Icon360 announced scholarship winners from HSBUs that are part of the “Closing the Gap” initiative. The inaugural effort will provide $510,000 in funding to fashion departments at HBCUs.
On Tuesday, Urban Outfitters released the special-edition UO Summer Class of 2021 apparel collection. The assortment of collegiate apparel and lifestyle accessories was designed by five students from three HBCUs who took part in a 10-week internship program. In October, Bleacher Report and the Social Change Fund United joined forces to create a collection celebrating seven HBCUs and featuring the works of seven Black fashion directors.
The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation’s scholarship program aims to pay it forward by encouraging each scholarship recipient to get involved with community service.
In addition, as part of the Ralph Lauren Corporation’s Global Citizenship and Sustainability goals and its efforts to build a diverse, inclusive and equitable culture, the company works with HBCUs to create career opportunities for Black talent through internships, recruitment, mentorship and development programs.
Separately, last month the designer’s company introduced the Ralph Lauren “Pin of Solidarity” to shoppers in North America. Created by Ralph Lauren’s Black Advisory Council, the $10 pin is meant to symbolize the allyship with Black, African and African American communities. All of the profits from the sale of each pin will be given to the company’s separate UNCF Ralph Lauren Scholarship Program, which is separate from the foundation-supported scholarships. The company does not disclose sales targets, but a company spokeswoman said the aim is to sell as many as possible, “because of the purpose and intention behind the pin and for this important cause.” A donation to the UNCF Ralph Lauren Scholarship Program will be made, regardless of how many pins are sold.
The Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation is also a sponsor of the UNCF’s Walk for Education. The annual initiative raises funds to support HBCUs and their students through the support of individuals, corporations and other groups. With social distancing still in effect in many areas of the country, this year’s walk was held Sept. 18 virtually, due to the pandemic.