On Dec. 8, FIT launched an unprecedented initiative to transform the lives and careers of people of color in the creative industries. Through a multifaceted, comprehensive approach, the Social Justice Center at FIT (SJC) is designed to increase opportunity and accelerate social equity for those whom the industry might otherwise leave behind.
People of color make up only about one in five workers in the creative industries. Because the problem of underrepresentation is deeply rooted, the solution cannot be one-dimensional. BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) individuals in these industries face systemic barriers at every stage of their lives, beginning in childhood and lasting through retirement. That is why the SJC is building a seamless and sustained support network that addresses early education, college mentorship and training, and professional career support.
“The focus for the Social Justice Center at FIT is on the whole individual,” says FIT President Joyce F. Brown, who spearheaded this first-of-its-kind initiative in higher education. “We will intervene early with BIPOC youth so they can make informed decisions about their future and the careers they might choose to pursue. 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.”
The SJC aims to nurture a racially and ethnically diverse talent pipeline, from the middle school classroom to the executive level. If successful, it will break down systemic barriers and ensure that BIPOC professionals achieve their full potential. It will provide scholarships for middle school, high school, and college students, and offer a pathway to advancement through internships, mentorships, and apprenticeships with SJC partners.
This approach is supported by four pillars:
- collaboration among leading corporate and nonprofit CEOs who are committed to this vision,
- the talent, creativity, and expertise of FIT faculty, staff, and students,
- a sustained commitment to funding scholarships and programs, and
- ongoing accountability that will identify and measure the advancement of BIPOC professionals.
The SJC has received substantial industry support, including $1 million pledges from the foundations of PVH Corp., owner of iconic brands including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger; Capri Holdings Limited, whose luxury portfolio includes Michael Kors, Jimmy Choo, and Versace; and Tapestry, Inc., which owns Coach, Kate Spade, and Stuart Weitzman. G-III Apparel Group made the establishing gift to the SJC Scholarship Fund, which already has reached more than $1.5 million in contributions.
Stefan Larsson, chief executive officer of PVH Corp., hopes that his company’s early involvement will encourage further investment by industry: “It is only by coming together that we can make a real and lasting, positive change.”
Numerous scholarships are already available: the Social Justice Center Endowed Scholarship, the Amsale Aspire Initiative, the Art Smith Memorial Endowed Scholarship, the Black Student Illustrators Graduation Award, and the Prada Scholarship at FIT, among others.
Jeffrey Tweedy, former president and chief executive officer of Sean John and a Menswear Design and Marketing alumnus, will be a special advisor to President Brown to help build and expand the center. A search for an executive director is underway. Additionally, an industry advisory council of 16 executives has been established to counsel, collaborate, and help measure progress toward equity.
“After George Floyd’s murder, it occurred to me that we were in a very different place than a lot of the people and companies who simply wanted to do something,” President Brown says. “We were really very privileged to be in a position to make a difference. I wanted to create a different kind of pathway for people of color, so that we could see a different kind of outcome.”