NEW YORK — “What we’re doing is important and there are many young people in this world who want to do the same thing but do not have the opportunity,” said Brandon Maxwell in conversation with Fashion Scholarship Fund executive director Peter Arnold and model and Kode Wth Klossy founder Karlie Kloss.
The group president of Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., is from Ohio, and like Maxwell from Texas and Kloss from Missouri, is an example of “making it” in an industry and in a city that can feel exclusive. His home, which has been featured in numerous publications for his collection of artworks and black-and-white and color photography of Grace Jones and Lindsay Lohan, among others, is also a glimpse into what success in an industry could look like. But the conversation in Demsey’s home wasn’t accomplished individuals patting each other on the back. It was about providing opportunities for young people who aspire to be part of the fashion industry.
“We think that what we’re doing is super important, but how important is it really if we are not using the platforms that we’ve created for ourselves to make space for somebody else?” asked Maxwell. “We forget that there’s an entire country out there of young people with dreams, and once we get a seat at the table we forget to pull up a chair for somebody else because we’re so protective of having gotten the seat.”
The New York City-based designer and winner of the 2019 CFDA Womenswear Designer of the Year Award used his spring 2020 show in September as a platform to raise awareness for the Fashion Scholarship Fund. He tapped his show sponsors Dell, Cha Cha Matcha and Nine Banded Whiskey, among others, to donate to the 81-year-old organization to provide scholarships and financial aid to women of color studying at public colleges and universities who are the first generation of their families to attend college. “You’ve changed the lives of these scholarship recipients and I thank you for that,” said Arnold, who was named executive director of FSF in November 2018.
Maxwell also spoke at length about opening doors for the next generation of talent he believes will answer “many of the problems that we have in the industry.”
“Ask yourself when you’re interviewing, why does everyone look the same?” he asked. “It’s incredibly hard to get into the room as an intern unless you know somebody rich, famous or connected. It’s incredibly hard past that to get hired into the organization unless you have the money to look that way, to be that way. It’s incredibly hard past that to get funding unless you are male and white. That is the truth of the matter in general. I think there are young people in this country who want an opportunity that have something to say and that for me starts with education.”
Kloss posed a question to Arnold and Maxwell, saying, “Do you think there’s enough visibility to young people?” Maxwell believes the young adults are “ill-prepared” to enter the industry and that is what he and his peers have done wrong.
“This job is hard work, this job is sacrifice and this job is struggle, and I don’t think that we tell that to young people,” Maxwell said. “I think that we tell them as long as everything is filtered nicely and as long as everything looks good you’ll be successful and you’ll be famous. And that is a lie.”
Arnold added, “We work with 62 schools to make sure that those schools are in fact training these kids for the opportunities that are appropriate for them, that are in fact available for them, that will allow them to succeed not just as a named designer but just being in the industry.”
The Fashion Scholarship Fund raised more than $6 million in the last five years and awarded scholarships to more than 200 students. Despite this, Arnold said, “Not enough people know about the amazing stuff we do. We’re an organization that’s constantly looking for mentors, internships opportunities. We’re awarding two-hundred-plus kids every year with scholarships. All of that volunteerism could be super meaningful.”
Mentorship has been Kloss’ mission since founding Kode With Klossy, and she and Maxwell foster talent on “Project Runway.” “In our work with Kode With Klossy I think a huge part of what the girls walk away with is just being seen and being appreciated,” Kloss said. “Being a young person in the world today comes with challenges but how to better support them and create opportunities for scholarships as well as being part of a community that can make entry into this industry with a little less friction.”
And the back-patting that was left out of Demsey’s home made its way in through the party host himself. Demsey said about Maxwell and Kloss after the talk, “These are two really unique individuals that prove that working hard and being smart and paying your dues pays off.”