In an effort to reach more students and create career opportunities, Raisefashion has upped the ante for the third installment of its paid internship program with the Anti-Racism Fund.
This time around outreach was extended to 13 HBCUs, compared to four last year. Candidates from six of the 13 HBCUs have been accepted. There were more than 500 candidates vying for the 29 spots in this year’s summer program. In recent years some corporations and organizations have been trying to create a pipeline for aspiring designers and other creatives, who are keen to pursue a career in fashion, in order to make the industry more diverse and attainable to a wider swath of people from different backgrounds.
Well aware of how cost-of-living expenses have increased in New York and Los Angeles — the base cities for the internships — the organization has taken that into account. This year’s participants will receive $5,000 grants versus last year’s support of $4,000. That is in addition to what they are paid.
HBCUs have an economic impact of $14.8 billion on the U.S. economy, according to the “HBCUs Make America Strong: The Positive Economic Impact of Historically Black Colleges and Universities” report, which was published last year by a research arm of the United Negro College Fund. The internship program is designed to create greater inroads for diverse talent in the fashion and retail sector.
Created in 2021 with the ARF, the 10-week program welcomed students from Howard University, Spelman College, Morehouse College and Florida A&M University. The majority of the incoming group of students are from Howard University and Spelman College, as well as North Carolina A&T, since “the larger schools with more robust fashion programs tend to place more students,” according to Alexa Geovanos, a Raisefashion founding board member.
While students have been the “biggest advocates” for the program and promote it among their peers, she said one of the main incentives for partnering with ARF stemmed from the fashion industry lacking in recruiting from HBCUs. Three years in, Raisefashion’s relationships with those schools have strengthened.
Lest any students wonder if the endeavor will prove fruitful, Raisefashion noted that eight of the students who interned during the program’s first two years subsequently have taken full-time jobs in the fashion industry. Program alums may have initially felt that they “didn’t have the right connections or understand how the industry worked. But after participating, they realized they did have the skills and something that they can bring to the table with their perspectives,” Geovanos said.
Incoming interns will take part in a contact competition, an “industrywide networking event” next month and other opportunities. With nearly 500 advisers and a brand fellowship program, Raisefashion rolled out the internship program to encourage students to pursue fashion careers.
Looking back at the organization’s early years, Geovanos recalled how Raisefashion started with her and a few colleagues from the industry offering pro bono consulting to brands. The organization grew from “this momentum, interest and urgency to participate,” and the main programming initially was focused on supporting brands, Geovanos said. A conversation with ARF led to the realization that the group could also impact aspiring professionals as students.
To date, the ARF x Raisefashion internship program has offered internships to 79 students and distributed more than $343,000 in grants to students. Although the ARF provided most of the internship program’s funding initially, a lot of companies are providing donations as well, said ARF cofounder Lindsey Ferguson.
“As a graduate of a HBCU, it’s very exciting to see that all of these companies are giving these students and the universities the recognition and pride that they have always deserved. It’s wonderful for them to recognize that Howard University, Spelman, Florida A&M [University] are really full of wonderful students and giving them the opportunity that many other students from different universities have had for generations. It truly has become something that is slowly creating a lot of parity within the industry.”
Raisefashion and the ARF will host a kickoff event Monday night at the Silver Arts Projects at 4 World Trade Center in Manhattan.
ARF knows the location well. It also supports the Silver Arts Projects, a nonprofit that provides mentorship and free yearlong studio space to overlooked artists at that downtown location. “What I want people to understand from all of these initiatives that we have done is that all that people need is an opportunity. Once you give them that opportunity to shine, they really will go out and do some of the best work, while bringing so much passion that nobody has ever really seen before,” Ferguson said.