Gucci, beloved by the black community for decades, this past February found itself on the outside of its cultural adoration. After producing a black polo neck sweater that resembled blackface, the racially insensitive garment quickly caught backlash from the masses. This tone-deaf misstep was a reminder that not many African-Americans work at Gucci, work with Gucci, and that similar offenses would likely continue if that didn’t change.
Harlem legend Dapper Dan, who made a name for himself repurposing Gucci and other designer brands decades ago, stepped in to right the ship. Dap, who reaffirmed his relationship with the brand several seasons back, was at the helm of talks with Gucci brass. They’d personally come to his office in Harlem to discussion corrective measures.
Gucci first issued an apology and promised to put processes in place for this to, first, never happen again, and second, work to diversify its brand internally. The fruits of that statement and subsequent conversations with Dapper Dan were revealed yesterday in a full-fledged Diversity Program entitled “Gucci Changemakers”. One that Dan claims is “imperative” for the black community.
At its center, a $5 million “Changemakers Fund” and $1.5 million scholarship program in North America serve as the primary functions of the budding initiative. Moreover, Changemakers will highlight “a global employee-volunteering framework” allowing all 18,000 Gucci employees to take four days paid leave to volunteer in their local communities. This won’t only be offered to Gucci employees, but highly encouraged.
Gucci, who stated these moves aim at “creating lasting social impact in our communities and within the fashion industry,” could very well offer the next African-American or person of color at job designing sneakers through its Changemakers Fund. Or, ensure that another designer has an opportunity to further his or her education through its scholarship program.
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This cultural and industry initiative could touch all points of the community and the fashion industry. A Changemakers Council — full of community leaders and social change experts (including Dapper Dan) — has been appointed to ensure that does indeed happen. Creating opportunities for blacks and people of color in fashion (and sneakers) will be of paramount importance.
“Black designers and fashion professionals will be given new opportunities through these new initiatives,” said Dan on Instagram. “It’s important that we have an opportunity to learn on a world-class level, and also have a seat at the table to say how we would be represented.”