The culmination of years of social unrest and the height of the Black Lives Matter movement last year prompted many throughout fashion to consider their contribution to a better society.
In October, American Eagle Outfitters (AEO), which owns the American Eagle and Aerie brands, responded to this call by launching the AEO Real Change Scholarship for Social Justice, a $5 million investment that aims to advance educational opportunities and inspire systemic change. After a months-long selection process, the company has chosen its inaugural group of recipients.
The group consists of 15 full- and part-time AEO, Inc. associates from underrepresented communities who are actively driving anti-racism, equality and social justice initiatives. Each recipient receives a $10,000 scholarship for the 2021/2022 academic year and the opportunity to work with an AEO, Inc. mentor to further their career development and social justice efforts. According to the company, the program isn’t confined to advancing education opportunities, but also exists to create a pipeline of qualified and diverse candidates for full-time positions within the company.
“We have always believed that one of the best investments we can make is in our people,” said Jay Schottenstein, executive chairman of the board and CEO of AEO, Inc. “The Real Change Scholarship for Social Justice demonstrates AEO’s commitment to help end racism, discrimination and inequality while providing educational support for the next generation of leaders.”
Scholarship recipients include young changemakers that have started impactful initiatives, including a student who founded One World Club, a human rights organization supporting diversity and providing a safe place for people to be their authentic selves; another who met with her state representative and policy team to amend proposed bills that negatively impacted lower income families of color; and another who started a sexual health awareness club at his high school and actively raises awareness and combats anti-Semitism, racism and misogyny.
Other denim brands are showing their support for changemakers leading the charge against injustice. The Levi Strauss Foundation (LSF) recently announced it’s searching for a new group of social justice leaders to join its Pioneers in Justice initiative, a program that aims to empower early-stage activists. Earlier this year, Tommy Hilfiger also called for social entrepreneurs to join the third edition of its Tommy Hilfiger Fashion Frontier Challenge, an initiative that gives a platform to BIPOC entrepreneurs working to advance their communities.
AEO, Inc.’s diversity and inclusion efforts also include internal work, such as nominating a chief inclusion and diversity officer to strengthen career development opportunities for Black and POC associates and foster a more inclusive workplace. It also made a $500,000 pledge to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund to support their education equity work and scholarships for Black students and matched up to $100,000 in donations made by AEO associates to organizations fighting against racism and for social justice.
In addition, the company implemented a program with the National Retail Federation to provide retail career education for students attending historically Black colleges and universities.