Marisa Berenson and Ralph Lauren

While much has been spoken and written about the need for racial equality in the fashion industry, the newly formed Icon 360 will host 75 Black and indigenous designers of color next month at a virtual retreat.

The annual online gathering is hosted by Harlem’s Fashion Row, which established the nonprofit Icon 360. Set up to help designers navigate the global crisis caused by the pandemic, Icon 360 offers guidance on different levels. The timing coincides with many fashion designers, manufacturers and retailers are reevaluating diversity within their own companies.

Nike, which has supported various Harlem’s Fashion Row events over the years, is also a cohost of this month’s event. With financial support from the sneaker giant, the retreat’s participating designers will learn strategies for building their businesses and will compete for a grant.

The Vogue/CFDA-led initiative “A Common Thread“ recently stepped up with a $1 million donation for the Icon 360 grant. The aim is to give designers in different stages of business to pursue opportunities with organizations that are committed to strengthening diversity in fashion. During this month’s retreat, Harlem’s Fashion Row founder Brandice Daniel will map out how the $1 million donation will be distributed.

This year’s attendees will hear from industry veterans Ralph Lauren, who will discuss longevity, and Donna Karan, who will weigh in on sustainability. The 75 participants will also hear from Tracy Reese. They will also hear from fashion reporter Teri Agins and stylist Wouri Vice, virtually mix cocktails with I.W. Harper and get insights from Vogue’s Chioma Nandi. The three-day virtual event will span a wide range of topics including “Effective Marketing Post-Pandemic” and “Setting Brand Direction.” Designers will be vying for a $10,000 grant that will be awarded to two designers through a competition.

The retreat — the second of its kind — will require that designers present their collections. Gaining insight from proven designers is another element that will be offered. Daniel said, “We have always taken pride in creating an avenue for Black designers to learn about the industry by talking to leading fashion insiders.“

Attendees will also take part in a virtual “Dinner With Nike,” since social distancing would make an in-person event of that size out of the question. The gathering was originally planned to be held at Nike’s New York offices. Gap Inc., Diageo, Macy’s and Janie and Jack are among the other sponsors of the event. Designers at the retreat — all of whom applied and were selected by a jury — will also get virtual tours of Macy’s, the CFDA and other locales. Gap has donated $25,000 to Icon 360, which aims to be a $10 million entity, according to a spokeswoman. While job placement is not specifically part of this month’s program, companies are always looking for new talent, she noted.

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