Mike Amiri is launching the Amiri Prize for up-and-coming American fashion talent, with a $100,000 cash prize and mentorship for aspiring designers.
He’s funding the annual award and incubator program himself, calling on a diverse panel of fashion business people and entrepreneurs to judge entrants in one of the first-of-its-kind prizes in the American market.
“I have always wanted to do something to help young creatives who are lost in the fashion system, because there are not that many doors to get in,” said Amiri, sharing that over the years his DMs have been flooded with up-and-comers looking for advice. “I have people who have followed me since I started in a basement to when I opened my store on Rodeo Drive, and there is so much in between, like, ‘How do I know what stores to sell to?’ ‘Do I give things away to stylists?’ ‘Should I produce first or take orders first?’
”I would stay up at night replying because a lot of these things I went through as well, and there was no one to tell me the right way and wrong way.”
A lot of young designer prizes are based in Europe and backed by the bigger luxury groups. “This is really special because it’s by an American designer for designers,” said Amiri. “I want to provide a resource that has the potential to change someone’s life.”
The Amiri Prize is open to American residents whose ready-to-wear business is one year, but no older than three years, old. The application can be found on the brand’s website.
“I want to catch a designer at a specific point in their career, that’s not so early that they are just starting from scratch, or so late that they are already set in their ways,” said Amiri. “Businesses in general are in their infancy in the first five years, and after the first two years you are just reaching that hump, and I remember those pain points.”
The Amiri Prize judges are designer Glenn Martens, creative director of Diesel and Y/Project; Renzo Rosso, Amiri investor and president of OTB; retailer Chris Gibbs, owner of the influential streetwear store Union Los Angeles; product designer Salehe Bembury, who has worked on footwear for Versace and Yeezy, among others and recently announced his new footwear brand Spunge; journalist Nikki Ogunnaike, digital director of Harper’s Bazaar, and stylist Karla Welch, founder of x Karla and The Period Company.
“It was important to have a group with a diverse perspective, whether it’s editorial, retail, styling or business,” said Amiri. “Renzo has been a mentor to me in a lot of business discussions. He’s always looking to support young creatives as well. Chris from Union, he’s been a Paris staple and seen all the young brands. And Karla, when I was just getting started, she discovered the brand and came to my dingy design studio and saw something special.”
The amount of the prize money was calculated to be “enough to build a collection and fund a bit of production,” the designer said, expanding on the mentoring part, which will cover creative, merchandising, production and distribution, including access to Amiri and his team. “What’s really valuable is avoiding mistakes and knowing which paths to take. A lot of successful designers have a business counterpart, but young designers don’t. I thought even more valuable than the capital would be my time and the time of people in my company, some of whom have worked at European houses, so they can have questions answered and the tools to build something.”
As to why now, Amiri said the world has changed a lot. “There’s an innate responsibility that comes with success where it’s not just for you and the growth of the company, but the growth of the industry. There are so many people who can contribute and make an impact on where fashion is going but they don’t have the voice and the tools. When the whole industry is more open and inclusive and there are more opportunities, we all benefit.”