Stitch Fix Partners Offer Grants, Mentorship Program for Underrepresented Designers

As more companies and organizations are offering young designers greater career opportunities, Stitch Fix is the latest one introducing a grant and mentorship program.

Called Elevate, the initiative launches today through a partnership with Harlem’s Fashion Row and the group’s founder and chief executive officer Brandice Daniel. The objective is to mentor and support underrepresented Black, Indigenous and people of color entrepreneurs. For the launch, the focus will be on BIPOC-owned apparel and accessories companies that develop products for women, men or children. To be eligible, applicants must be early-stage, majority BIPOC-owned businesses that are based in the U.S.

Applications will be accepted through the end of the month, and after two rounds of evaluation, five designers will each be given $25,000 grants. Winners will be notified in December and the program will run from January through August. Leveraging Stitch Fix’s algorithms to learn about the client-product match and its advisory support will be offered, and in the end the company will write orders for the products. But Stitch Fix will not be seeking any kind of ownership in the designers’ companies.

Several other initiatives that are designed to help Black creatives establish long-lasting businesses have been in the news recently. Last month Resonance selected 11 Black creator-led direct-to-consumer brands for its accelerator program and online retail platform. The Designers Hub is working to accelerate the careers of Black-owned fashion businesses. Earlier this year, HFR launched its Icon 360 to help creatives during the pandemic and the initiative gained support from the CFDA/Vogue A Common Thread fund.

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Loretta Choy, Stitch Fix’s general manager of women’s, is leading Elevate. The initiative is part of the online personal styling service’s ongoing efforts to leverage its resources, know-how and data to try to create a more equitable and diverse retail landscape. Helping early-stage businesses surface the importance of data was a priority, she said. “We’ve brought in many designers into our platform. As they’re starting to read the data and study customers’ behaviors, they’re learning about their products. It’s really about the ability to utilize data to see things that you may not have been able to see before,” Choy said.

Along with a meeting with Stitch Fix’s founder and ceo Katrina Lake, participants will have another one with Daniel, who is serving as adviser. Grantees will connect with Stitch Fix’s algorithms team to get data insights to improve the product-market fit of their designs. Between 500 and 1,000 applicants are expected, Choy said. An Elevate microsite has been developed.

In an interview Wednesday, Daniel said the interest from Stitch Fix is what she has been looking for for 13 years. “In a way, this is like a full-circle moment for HFR. There are so many goals that I had written down through the years and so many things that I wanted to see that are right now coming into fruition,” she said.

Acknowledging how there are more mentorships and greater access for designers of color as well as financial support and opportunities, Daniel said securing the infrastructures of their companies is the greatest challenge now. That could mean greater funding for manufacturing, which would allow them to bring in a team rather than having to continue to act as ceo, designer, social media manager and the marketing department, she said.

Retailers’ and the market’s initial response to everything that is happening right now worried Daniel a bit in that she only wanted to work with brands that were committed to this work rather than a onetime endeavor. Although Stitch Fix and HFR have yet to put a number on their partnership, they are already discussing the next iteration and how to move forward, she said.

Despite the groundswell of uncertainty and this devastating period the fashion industry is facing, especially in New York City, Daniel said she is excited about the increased interest. “If anyone can show us how to pull ourselves out of this, how to be optimistic, how to find a way, it’s designers of color, because they have been doing it for so many years with nothing,” she said.

Always taking the long view, Daniel said, “My thing is always longevity. With everything that I’m doing, I want to know, ‘Is what I’m doing right now going to have an impact in the next 20 years?’ If the answer is ‘no,’ that is not success. If the answer is ‘yes,’ that is success.”

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