Raisefashion Salutes 2024 Masterclass

Class is back in session for Raisefashion, which hosted a cocktail reception and panel discussion Tuesday evening at The Standard Highline to salute its incoming Masterclass.

Founded in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, the nonprofit aimed at advancing the equity of brands owned by Black, Indigenous and people of color will award 10 participants (up from last year’s eight) with $15,000 in seed money and provide mentorship from its network of volunteers. The 2024 inductees include Aisling Camps, Fe Noel, Charles Harbison, Tolu Coker, Almasika, K.ngsley, Cise, Advisry, Nalebe and Anima Iris.

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To pass the test, each underwent a rigorous application process overseen by industry executives who took into account their product quality, market presence and potential for growth among other components. The eight-week course will run from March to July, culminating with a pitch session where two designers have the opportunity to receive an additional $15,000 grant.

Maya McHenry, Felita Harris
Maya McHenry and Felita Harris

“We have designers across every category from apparel to footwear and accessories, so we’re excited because they really deserve this opportunity to get the education, the financial resources and the added advisory support needed to really scale their businesses,” said Felita Harris, executive director for Raisefashion and one of its founding members.

During the event, Harris pointed out what Black, Indigenous and people of color designers need most is commitment from retailers, calling on them to “buy on a constant basis. In response, the Masterclass has been geared toward teaching, “not just what it takes to get into the retail distribution channel, but to stay in,” she added.

Among the retailers who showed their support on Tuesday were chief merchandising officers for Shopbop and Moda Operandi, Stephanie Roberson and April Hennig. Both contributed to the panel alongside Gabby Royal, associate vice president for the diversity and inclusion initiative at Victoria’s Secret, a cosponsor for the evening with H&M. “Hopefully some of the retailers that came tonight will go to the designers’ websites or even visit their showrooms during fashion week and explore their product.” said Harris.

Keith Herron, Stephanie Roberson, April Hennig, Gabby Royal
Keith Herron, Stephanie Roberson, April Hennig and Gabby Royal.

To replicate the success of last September’s Raisefashion pop-up store also hosted by The Standard, the event was held just before New York Fashion Week’s kick off on Friday, capitalizing on a moment when eyes are on New York talent, but editors, buyers, stylists and the like have yet to be tied up with appointments or bigger-ticket shows. “We always want to amplify our designers and allow their brands to be seen during times like this,” Harris explained, adding, “tonight is really about ensuring the industry knows they are here, that they’re visible.”

Aside from the exposure designers gain outside of Raisefashion, it’s the community they foster among their peers within the organization that can be the greatest comfort. So thought Amina Means, founder of women’s shoe brand Nalebe. “You basically are meeting your family,” she said, adding that after being rejected last year, she’s even more eager for programming to start.

Wilglory Tanjong, Jacques Agbobly
Wilglory Tanjong and Jacques Agbobly

Jacques Agbobly, a 2023 Masterclass member and the inaugural recipient of WWD’s One to Watch honor, was also on hand, quick to share how Raisefashion has been in lock-step with them since they joined. “I’m a very creative person, I grew up only in creative spaces, so the Masterclass was really a deep dive into the business side, which is a whole other game,” the Agbobly designer said. Although Agbobly came away with three mentors, they singled out Jonathan Simkhai for being especially helpful with merchandising for their collection.

When asked whether they had advice to give the incoming class, Agbobly offered, “don’t be afraid to ask questions. If there’s anything you’re unsure of, this is the perfect time to lay it all out on the table to really get feedback. Closed mouths don’t get fed.”

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