With More Than $4M Already in Hand, FIT Plans a Social Justice Center

Updated: Jan 4

By Retail Dive

This brief was published by Retail Dive December 9, 2021. The FIT press release is available here.

Dive Brief:

  • The Fashion Institute of Technology on Wednesday announced the launch of the Social Justice Center at FIT, an initiative "to increase opportunity and accelerate social equity within the creative industries for the Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) community."

  • The foundations at partners PVH Corp., Capri Holdings and Tapestry each committed $1 million to help launch the center, according to a press release from the school, which is part of the State University of New York system.

  • G-III Apparel Group also made an establishing gift to the SJC Scholarship Fund, which has more than $1.5 million in contributions. Other major retailers have also pledged support, including Target, Ralph Lauren, Carolina Herrera, Prada, Saks and The Fragrance Foundation.

Dive Insight:

As an incubator of talent in all aspects of the apparel business — sending its graduates on to succeed at mainstream, haute couture and their own indie brands — FIT has long influenced the apparel business and is a major reason why New York City remains a fulcrum of the fashion world.

Now the school is going beyond its important role as a secondary school to nurture the ambitions of members of the BIPOC community as early as middle school.

"We will intervene early with BIPOC youth so they can make informed decisions about their future and the careers they might choose to pursue," FIT President Joyce Brown said in a statement. "While they are in college, we will provide exposure to the inner workings of industry as well as concentrated support and training. Our partners in industry will then mentor, guide, and provide opportunities to accelerate their career potential."

Brown sees it as imperative in light of the institution's influence.

"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," she said.

The nationwide Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020, following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, have led to some soul-searching on the part of brands. Efforts within the industry, including Aurora James' Fifteen Percent Pledge, have helped push retailers to go beyond marketing and supportive social media posts to include concrete steps.

That has led retailers including Target, Macy's, Nordstrom, Sephora and others to bring more diversity into their assortments, boards and C-suites.

PVH CEO Stefan Larsson said that starting early will mean that those with aspirations will also have the necessary support and skills. "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," he 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."

The school has turned to a prominent alumnus, Jeffrey Tweedy, whose resume includes his past stint as president and CEO of Sean Combs' Sean John brand, "to help build and expand the center," per the release. Tweedy remains at Sean John as a brand advisor and also serves on the boards or serves as an adviser to several other organizations, including Academy Sports, Pineywood Boarding School, the Black Action Retail Group, the Figure Skate of Harlem and 500 Role Models. In a statement, Tweedy called the new center at FIT "crucial" and "the future of our creative industries."

"This effort is extremely important to me because diversity in the industry has been missing for too long," he said.

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