Institutional barriers that result in systemic inequality can seem vast and abstract.
But RAISEfashion, a new mentorship initiative launching Thursday, wants to start with concrete steps: Connecting Black creatives and Black-owned brands with a network of industry insiders who can draw on their expertise and connections to advise them as they navigate the industry.
The effort is designed as a mentorship program that, free-of-charge, would help connect applicants with suitable advisers from a pool of some roughly 100 industry veterans who have signed on to offer their consulting services, according to the group.
Brands and creatives who are interested in participating would fill out a form on the group’s web site, detailing their needs and where they are in their business life cycle, and then be matched with appropriate industry experts who would advise them, according to the group. The adviser network includes professionals with a range of expertise across the industry, from creative work to business analytics, logistics, marketing, sustainability, design, merchandising, fashion direction, and other areas, the group has said.
RAISEfashion is helmed by eight board members with roles across the industry — creative director Carly Cushnie; Jonathan Simkhai president April Hennig; Chloé Americas brand president Alexa Geovanos; Saks Fifth Avenue fashion director Roopal Patel; industry executives Nelli Kim and Felita Harris, and Net-a-porter buying directors Nayla Touma and Elizabeth von der Goltz.
“We see the barriers as structural, financial, and as a lack of access to general industry knowledge of how the system works,” Hennig told WWD in an interview. “A lack of access to tools and resources that are really part of the critical foundation of wholesaling or retailing your collection.”
Addressing inequality requires a clear-eyed assessment of such barriers to entry and to mobility within the industry, said Hennig, as well as an understanding of how existing social and professional networks can still impede those historically excluded from those circles.
For instance, a number of the existing efforts meant to help newcomers, including various grants, funds and programs in the industry, may often themselves be inaccessible, Hennig said.
“Many times you already have to have a solid business plan in place, or…know someone or you have to really kind of be invited into a panel discussion,” she said. “There’s just many ways that our industry has a tendency to operate in very exclusive and more insular ways.”
Board member Nelli Kim added that the effort will also work to identify obstacles for Black designers and fashion professionals.
“I think part of what our goal is, too, is to become proximate to Black talent, and hear exactly from them what their issues are,” said Kim. “The truth is we don’t necessarily know all the answers, but we feel good about being able to mobilize our network, and to be able to find the right people.”