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This June, Gucci is announcing the next round of students awarded a scholarship as part of Gucci Changemakers North America Fund. Through two initiatives—an Impact Fund and Scholarship Fund—a next generation of diverse young people are offered help with unmet financial needs, mentorship opportunities, and experiences in the fashion world. Part of a global project that also includes a volunteering component allowing for Gucci employees to take four paid days a year to volunteer in their community, Gucci Changemakers furthers the fashion house’s commitment to driving positive change around the world on both a human and environmental level.
Whitewall spoke with Antoine Phillips about overseeing the Changemakers Impact Fund and Scholarship Program as vice president of brand culture and engagement. He shared how connecting virtually with young people as a result of the pandemic has opened up new opportunities of engagement, as well as how Gucci with its overarching Equilibrium efforts, has become a leader in social and environmental action.
WHITEWALL: One of your main focuses is the Gucci Changemakers North America Impact Fund and Scholarship Program. How have the two initiatives evolved since when you joined Gucci? And why do you think a scholarship program was essential?
ANTOINE PHILLIPS: I have been with the company for two years now. When the opportunity came about at Gucci to lead brand and culture engagement, it was really to drive the Changemakers program. It was already a global program that included our Global Volunteering program. Changemakers was an internal piece that grew to the external facing part with the Scholarship and Impact Fund. It’s for us to go deep into our communities and really show up and be role models, creating impact and using this brand to be an ally.
WW: Who is Changemakers for? Who are you targeting?
AP: We are looking for students of color, Black, Asian, Latinx, in order to foster the next generation of talent. We’re looking at HBCUs, and in communities outside of New York and L.A. We’re looking for kids in America who want to work in this space and letting them know that a brand like Gucci sees them and they can be a part of it. Through Gucci Changemakers, we can give them the tools, the programs, and opportunities to come and be a part of our community. We’re looking for real students who want to be a part of the industry and helping their realities come to life, these future executives, designers, photographers.
WW: In the time you’ve been with Gucci and been a part of this, what kind of impact have you seen?
AP: There’s been a lot. We launched this in October 2019 and then we know March of last year we went on lockdown. Part of it was shifting and pivoting to our current new normal. We created monthly townhalls where our not-for-profits can get together, learn from each other, have someone to speak to, and we gave them additional grants because we saw during the time that not-for-profit budgets were being cut. We did rapid response grants; we partnered with After School Matters in Chicago. It was a lot of adapting to our new climate.
WW: How has engaging with young people changed your own vision of the possibilities in fashion at the moment and in the future?
AP: I feel in this role I’ve found my purpose. To connect with a student for me is the most rewarding thing. I didn’t have that when I was coming up. It really means something, giving these scholarships out, which really go to students who need last dollars to complete their education.
In doing the research, we wanted to see what these students can use. What we saw when students were not graduating, it’s usually not because of grades or attendance, it’s because of funding. They don’t have that last whatever sum of funding is for their credits, for their class. We saw that average dollar amount was $20,000, so our scholarships go from $5,000 to $20,000. You’re going in knowing that this is going to have an effect on someone’s life.
WW: What’s next for Gucci Changemakers?
AP: It’s about making sure we are amplifying programming for students, how can we help them tell their stories, what they’re trying to get out there. We want to be a resource. We are a big brand that can help support and amplify important messaging. It’s about continuing to let it grow, being great, being intentional, and for Gucci to continue to lead by example. It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon, and I’m excited.