Gucci launches North American diversity scholarship program

Italian fashion house Gucci has launched a $1.5 million US university scholarship program that is aimed at students who are “traditionally underrepresented” in the fashion industry.

The program, which is set to run four years, is part of Gucci’s multi-pronged effort to boost diversity following the uproar earlier this year over a $890 sweater that resembled blackface.

The Gucci Changemakers initiative was announced in March with the aim of supporting “industry change and to foster unity through community action.”

The scholarships for students attending four-year universities will consider ethnic and gender diversity.

Toronto is the only Canadian location, among 12 North American cities where Gucci scholarships will be made available.

The other cities include: Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, with special consideration given to students attending black colleges or universities.

Along with the scholarships of up to $20,000 per student for the 2020-21 academic year, Gucci also announced $1 million in grants to community-based organizations focusing on education; social justice and equity; and art and culture.

Grants run from $10,000-$50,000 for one year, with the program slated to run for five years.

Two scholarships will be awarded to design students in conjunction with the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

Another 20 to 50 scholarships will be awarded by the Changemakers council to students aiming for fashion careers but not necessarily design.

Applications for both the scholarship and grant programs opened on Monday. The grant deadline is Nov. 7; scholarship applications close on Dec. 31.

“With the scholarship program, we aim to create opportunities and visibility for traditionally underrepresented creatives,” said lawyer and writer Yaseen Eldik, who is co-chair of the Changemakers Council.

“Our goal is to break down barriers, particularly financial, and make fashion for diverse and inclusive.”

Changemakers was initially launched as a program to allow employees up to four days to volunteer in community programs.

It was expanded earlier this year to include external outreach after the controversy over a black wool balaclava sweater that evoked racist imagery of blackface.

A screenshot taken on Thursday Feb.7, 2019 from an online fashion outlet showing a Gucci turtleneck black wool balaclava sweater for sale, that they recently pulled from its online and physical stores. Gucci has apologized for the wool sweater that resembled a “blackface” and said the item had been removed from its online and physical stores, the latest case of an Italian fashion house having to apologize for cultural or racial insensitivity. (The Associated Press)

Gucci immediately withdrew the garment from sale and said the incident would be “a powerful learning moment.”

Among its responses to date, Gucci hired Renee E. Tirado as a global director for diversity based in New York in July. Tirado previously had a similar role at Major League Baseball.

The fashion house has also hired three new designers with diverse backgrounds for its Rome design office and is in the process of hiring two more.

Gucci is working with 10 universities, including four in Africa and three in Asia, on a fellowship program aimed at helping “underrepresented” groups get into fashion.

Fellows are being selected through design competitions and the winners will be announced later this month.