The YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund Geoffrey Beene National Scholarship Awards Dinner made history last week, raising more than $3.4 million at its annual event at New York’s Waldorf Astoria hotel.
More than 150 college students from across the country were flown in to receive their awards, each receiving $5,000, with four special winners receiving $30,000 and five others $10,000, thanks to the group’s association with the Geoffrey Beene Foundation. The top winners of the evening were handed their trophies and awards by former Yankees hurler Mariano Rivera.
“Literally, we change the lives of the kids,” said Doug Evans, executive director of the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund. “This is not needs-based, it’s talent-based. What usually happens is that we place them at internships all across the country, then they usually get job offers there.”
Ken Wyse, president of licensing and public relations at PVH Corp. and chairman of the organization, agreed.
“I call this the normal person’s CFDA,” he said. “I was here when it was 400 people and $300,000 and now it’s over 1,300 people and $3 million for scholarships. We are fueling the future leaders of the industry here tonight so that they can see success and achieve it.”
To become successful, said Doug Ewert, chief executive officer of Men’s Wearhouse and recipient of the night’s Retailer of the Year Award, one needs to take chances. “It’s always about pushing the envelope and learning from mistakes and then learning from new mistakes,” he said. “You can’t ever be afraid of taking risks.”
The night’s event also honored Ruben and Isabel Toledo, the latter was nominated for a Tony Award for her work on the Broadway musical, “After Midnight.” They were presented their award by Patti LaBelle, who had a hard time reading the teleprompter but rose to the occasion nonetheless. “I have no script, so I’m just going to say: ‘Hey, girl, hey, man,’ ” she said, embracing the designers in a bear hug.
“It’s not about us tonight, it’s about the students and the industry coming together for the next generation,” said Isabel Toledo. “Everyone’s gotta do work for themselves,” her husband added. “You have to dream it up first. But also, without people helping us we wouldn’t be here either. From Polly Mellen at Vogue to Bill Cunningham [of the New York Times], they all helped.”
The same sentiment came from Chip Bergh, the president and ceo at Levi Strauss & Co. who was being honored with the AMY Award. He was presented his award by a former YMA scholar who is now an assistant merchandiser at Levi’s. “The best story of the night is Courtney introducing me,” Bergh said.
“There’s a point in your career where you want to do for others what they have done for you,” he added. “I spent 25 years at Procter & Gamble and my mentors helped shape who I was.”
Bergh, who admitted he wasn’t as familiar with retail when he took the job three years ago, said he reached out to Mickey Drexler of J. Crew to gain knowledge of the industry.
“When I joined the industry I kept hearing the name Mickey Drexler. So I cold-called him and was like, ‘I’ll fly to New York City just to have breakfast with you.’ He taught me about the importance of the merchant, the role the merchant should be playing out of the organization. We even walked stores together. How invaluable is that?
“The point is, you’re never too old to learn, and if you stay humble, you’ll get far,” he said.