As another sign of its commitment to create greater equity, the nonprofit Raisefashion is introducing a fellowship program to empower brands owned by Black, Indigenous and people of color.
Candidates can apply for an eight-week masterclass starting Thursday via the organization’s site. To make the grade, each will be critiqued for their businesses’ maturity, product quality and desirability, distribution channels, marketing, customer engagement and growth potential for growth. Up to eight brands will be selected for the program, which will get underway on March 27 and will run through June 12. At the end of the program, each participant will receive a $15,000 grant, and they will take part in a pitch session that will result in two participants being awarded an additional $15,000 each.
To further foster representation, the selection committee is comprised of industry leaders not just in fashion, but also from the music, technology, diversity and inclusion, media and entertainment industries.
Asked about the overall commitment among major corporations to diversity and inclusion today versus in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd, Raisefashion’s founding member and executive director Felita Harris said, “Listen, Black and Brown communities are afraid that there is a sense of diversity fatigue. What we are doing is saying that there are organizations and companies that are still committed to advancing opportunities to designers of color. Those are the companies that we are partnering with for this program.”
Launched following Floyd’s murder, the volunteer network Raisefashion aims to create change from the ground-up through pro-bono consulting for 250-plus emerging brands. Along with learning the ins and outs of navigating the industry, the group helps the up-and-comers cultivate a network of contacts. While many associate fashion with the design side of the business, other essential elements such as e-commerce, finance, merchandising, operations and logistics, influencer outreach, creative content strategies, marketing and public relations can be explored.
Enthusiastic about the new masterclass, Harris noted how some companies that already started their own incubator and accelerator programs have also aligned with Raisefashion to continue to tap into “this pipeline of talent” and are providing education with their own financial support to ensure we’re strengthening these companies.
Saks, the VF Foundation, Hand Baldachin Associates LLP, TikTok, Michael Kors, Farfetch, Simkhai, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Birimian Ventures are among the resources that are offering authorities for the masterclasses.
All in all though, there are three major obstacles for Black, Indigenous and people of color workers in fashion, according to Harris. “We cannot underestimate the financial need for these designers. It’s very expensive to invest and scale [up] a business in the fashion industry. Also, the education piece of this has really been underestimated. Our program is designed to parallel both — to give financial grant assistance and to teach the fundamentals that these designers need to understand, as they scale their businesses,” she said. “The third piece of that is access to thought leadership and advisory.”
Unlike a lot of organizations that are “amazing,” Raisefashion has “a deep bench of expertise,” and most have scaled major fashion companies and they are giving pro-bono advice so designers understand the fundamentals of how to run a business.
But diversity fatigue and the lack of investment and resources being poured into marginalized communities after such a long fight remain concerning. “It’s vital at this time to listen, to check in and adjust resources where they are needed to truly dispel that narrative in our industry and to [prove] that what happened two years ago is not just a trend. It’s really important right now,” Harris said.