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FIT Funds Diverse Talent From Middle School to C-Suite

Corporations behind Tommy Hilfiger, Versace and Coach are together committing millions to support the creation of a racially and ethnically diverse talent pipeline from the middle school classroom to the executive level.

Through their respective foundations, PVH Corp., Capri Holdings Limited and Tapestry, Inc. have each committed $1 million to help launch the Social Justice Center (SJC) at the State University of New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). G-III Apparel Group made the establishing gift to the SJC Scholarship Fund, which has reached more than $1.5 million in contributions. Other companies that have pledged support include Carolina Herrera, Prada, Ralph Lauren, Saks, Target and The Fragrance Foundation.

“The goals for the Social Justice Center align with our own values to foster an environment of inclusion, belonging and equity for all across the industry,” PVH CEO Stefan Larsson said in a statement. “We believe the unique approach of the SJC to provide support at every stage of the career journey will help ensure that promising creative talent in the BIPOC community have the tools they need, as well as a clearer pathway to access and success.”

Announced Wednesday, the initiative aims to “increase opportunity and accelerate social equity within the creative industries for the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community.” Its hallmark, FIT said, is the seamless interconnection between early education, college mentorship and training and career support.

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“A powerful and much overdue dialogue was sparked last year around diversity and inclusion, which led to a sobering realization that there was much work to do within the creative industries and at FIT as well,” FIT president Joyce F. Brown said in a statement. “Since then, we have been building a strong foundation for the Social Justice Center at FIT. I am grateful for the early support from PVH, Capri Holdings, Tapestry, G-III Apparel Group, and FIT’s other charter partners. They have demonstrated a formidable commitment to these efforts, and I am confident that the center is poised to effect meaningful change.”

FIT identified four pillars that will support the center’s approach: collaboration among committed corporate and nonprofit CEOs; access to the talent, creativity and expertise of FIT faculty and students as resource; a sustained commitment to funding support for scholarships and programs; and ongoing accountability that will identify and measure the advancement of BIPOC professionals. Jeffrey Tweedy, former president and CEO of Sean John and an FIT alumnus, will act as a special advisor to FIT’s president to help build and expand the center.

Thus far, Brown said, companies and colleges have focused either on the workplace or on education. FIT’s Social Justice Center, however, will center “the whole individual,” intervening early with BIPOC youth so that they can make informed decisions about the careers they might pursue. In college, the center will look to expose students to the industry’s inner workings, as well as provide concentrated support and training. FIT’s partners in the industry will then mentor, guide, and provide opportunities to accelerate their career potential.

“It is our obligation at FIT to mobilize our resources and our network to remove existing obstacles so that racially and ethnically diverse students can be recognized for their value in all of the creative fields, including fashion, beauty, interior design, graphic design, advertising, and communications,” Brown added.

The SJC will provide scholarships for middle school, high school and college students. This support will include precollege instruction aimed at preparing youths for college-level study and providing exposure to career opportunities in the creative sector. Once in college, the center will facilitate internships, mentorships and apprenticeships provided by SJC partners. Beyond college, it will promote industry mentorship programs.

FIT has established an industry advisory council of 16 executives to counsel, collaborate and help measure progress in achieving equity. A search is currently underway for an executive director of the center, who will report directly to Brown.

Capri Holdings introduces ‘expansive’ scholarship program

Also on Wednesday, Capri Holdings—one of the center’s core funders—unveiled plans for an “expansive” new scholarship program funded by the Capri Holdings Foundation for the Advancement of Diversity in Fashion it established earlier this year.

Over the next four years, the foundation plans to fund scholarships for nearly 100 students from historically underrepresented communities, including the BIPOC community, who are pursuing degrees in fashion and merchandising at FIT, Howard University, Pensole Academy and Central Saint Martins – University of the Arts London, Capri said.

“Our brands are deeply committed to helping students of all backgrounds have greater educational opportunities and real-world experiences,” John D. Idol, chairman and CEO of Capri Holdings, said in a statement. “These scholarships aren’t just designed to ease students’ financial pressures, they are also part of a larger effort to help remove systemic roadblocks and increase opportunities for racially and ethnically diverse students within the fashion industry.”

The effort is part of the company’s $20 million pledge to “advance equality and promote long-term change in the fashion industry,” Capri said. In addition to covering tuition, room and board, the scholarships will fund internship-related expenses for those pursuing internships in fashion.

“I am truly humbled that the Capri Holdings Foundation believes in our vision to diversify the industry by making it more accessible for those who may have never imagined that they could pursue design as a career,” D’Wayne Edwards, founder of Pensole Academy, said in a statement. “This partnership will inspire thousands of consumers to become creators and will bring forth future leaders that will redefine our industry. Thank you, Capri Holdings Foundation, for providing our students the opportunity to redesign their lives.”