In an effort to support the next generation of AAPI designers, the immersive space Genesis House and the Council of Fashion Designers of America are teaming up to debut the CFDA/Genesis House AAPI Design + Innovation Grant.
The five-month initiative is geared toward fostering talent in the AAPI community. Three up-and-coming designers will be vying for the CFDA’s inaugural AAPI innovation grant. Submissions will be open later this summer for this mentorship program. The trio will present their final designs to Prabal Gurung, actress Jodie Turner-Smith, Monse cofounder Fernando Garcia, Saks Fifth Avenue’s Sandra Park and Alina Cho, among others.
The program will culminate with designers creating a bespoke collection that highlights “the friction between Korean cultural tradition and modernity,” with the support of a $40,000 grant from Genesis House for each participant to bankroll their design innovations.
In addition to the aforementioned, other mentors and advisory board members include consultant Grace Cha; Rachel Espersen, executive director of brand experience, Genesis House and Studios, at Genesis Motor America; Google’s senior director of global marketing Stephanie Horton, and the CFDA’s chief executive officer Steven Kolb.
Kolb said, “There are many programs that are focused on underrepresented communities, particularly in fashion. I think this is the first of its kind. Part of our work has been building greater equity and inclusion in fashion. Much of it has been with our impact work around Black and brown designers.”
The CFDA’s commitment to diversity is reflected during fashion week, with more than 30 percent of the participating brands founded or led by creative directors from underrepresented communities, Kolb said.
With Genesis’ support, the CFDA can provide three brands with funding, resources, visibility, mentorships and relationships so that they can hopefully grow their brands. “I think there will be really great storytelling that comes out of it to really reflect the ethos of Genesis House and the Asian community,” Kolb said.
Highlighting some of the other initiatives that the CFDA has done over the years such as the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, the CFDA Fashion Incubator, the Fashion Manufacturing Initiative and the Launch Pad Program, the inaugural AAPI one follows a similar template with industry experts’ input in identifying talent that could benefit from these experts, while also providing funding, Kolb said.
Although one can see a lot of success with Asian designers in the American fashion industry, despite that level of integration, nurturing the next generation of AAPI designers has not been a focal point of the CFDA’s work, according to Kolb. “When you look at the current climate of hate crimes and discrimination against the community, it’s important as an organization to show up and represent allyship and help them in their businesses navigate what has been a very difficult time,” Kolb said. “Even with representation in the industry in the past, there should have always been greater representation, and a program like this will help.”
Participants will travel to Seoul to visit the Onjium research institute that specializes in delving into traditional Korean culture while presenting a modern spin. The organization was started in 2013 in affiliation with the Hwadong Culture Foundation. The challenge will top off with a public showcase in February at Genesis House, the Meatpacking District emporium that features a restaurant, showroom and event space.
The winning designer will be awarded an additional $60,000 (for a total of $100,000) in order to develop their collection, which will be showcased in the Meatpacking District location for public viewing. They will also get a glimpse of the competing designs.
Another upside could be greater exposure and distribution of all CFDA members in Korea. Noting how corporate partnerships often lead to new relationships, Kolb said, “I do believe that the visibility that can come from this will not only bring attention to the three designers, but to the organization as a whole — and all 470 or so of our members.”