Canada’s oldest retailer is set to launch the Hudson’s Bay Fashion Fund, an annual grant of $25,000 paired with a three-year mentorship program, aimed at fostering emerging BIPOC Canadian designers.
The award was announced at tonight’s Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards by Canadian designer and Brother Vellies founder Aurora James, who started the 15 Percent Pledge, a commitment to stock at least 15 percent BIPOC-owned and designed brands that Hudson’s Bay signed onto just last week.
And while the timing is fortuitous — in early May, the $25,000 Suzanne Rogers Designer Grant was “deferred” following social posts the socialite and fashion patron posted with former President Donald Trump, a blow to an industry with already limited grants and financial support for designers — Hudson’s Bay says this fund has been in the works since at least last summer.
“George Floyd’s death was a galvanizing moment for many,” says Tyler Franch, VP fashion director at the department store. “At Hudson’s Bay, it was apparent that we needed to look at how we do business and how we support the BIPOC community. The Fashion Fund is one of many steps we have [taken] and continue to take to accelerate racial equity in Canada.” The choice to offer this opportunity to BIPOC designers, he continues, was an acknowledgement of the “systemic disadvantages” these communities can face. “As Canada’s fashion retailer we need to be accountable [to] and reflective of all Canadians,” says Franch, “to ensure diversity in the brands we offer, as well as the designers we work with.”
Hudson’s Bay has also recently released its “Charter For Change” which marked the company’s 351st anniversary by acknowledging a need to “reconcile its past” (which includes a troubled history with Canada’s Indigenous people) and “change for a more equitable future.” That includes a commitment of $30 million over ten years for the Hudson’s Bay Foundation to support anti-racism education and create career opportunities for BIPOC people. “[The Fashion Fund] is part of a holistic approach Hudson’s Bay is taking to build an equitable Canada for all,” says Franch.
The fund combines a monetary grant with a mentorship program that will give the recipient the opportunity to learn from various departments across Hudson’s Bay — product development, material sourcing, finance, marketing — as well as the opportunity to have their work featured on the retailer’s website or in their brick-and-mortar stores. “While the financial support is obviously incredibly important, investing long-term in the growth of the brand through mentorship and real-time experiences is really what sets this fund apart from others,” explains Franch of the model they’ve chosen. “With a national footprint of stores combined with the 5th largest e-commerce business in Canada, Hudson’s Bay can provide unparalleled insider access to Canadian retail.” The program is designed to “build a thriving brand and business,” he continues, nodding to the knowledge gap that can often exist in creative industries between creating beautiful things and actually being able to make a living from it.
For Franch, who helped to spearhead this initiative within Hudson’s Bay, helping to build that bridge between talent and opportunity is what this fund is all about. “As a former [magazine] editor, I recognize that the market is looking to support and showcase emerging Canadian designers, but they often do not have the runway to succeed,” he says, noting that the dream of this fund is to be the launching pad of say, the next Virgil Abloh. “We want to be part of their success and bring global attention to Canadian design.”
While the exact details — including eligibility criteria — have not yet been announced, the fund’s recipients will be chosen by an advisory board that Franch says will be “a diverse panel of some of the country’s leading industry and societal change-makers.” Applications open this September.
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