49th Annual BRAG Scholarship and Awards Gala Returns To Support African-Americans In the Fashion Industry

By Alysha Conner

BRAG is the leading 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is devoted to the inclusion of people of color in the retail, fashion, and related industries. Since 1970, BRAG has contributed to educating and developing fashion professionals. The organization has also provided mentorship to high school and college students nationwide. Furthermore, BRAG will be hosting its 49thAnnual Scholarship and Awards Gala on October 21st, to support further and recognize exceptional individuals in fashion and related industries.

This year’s Scholarship and Awards Gala will be held at The Edison Ballroom in New York City, NY, from 6 PM to 10 PM. Official sponsors for the Gala consist of Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Burlington, HBO, Phillips-Van Heusen Corporation, Laboratory Institute of Merchandising College, Ashley Stewart, Foot Locker Foundation, Inc., Wal-Mart, Belk, and TJX Companies. The annual event primarily functions as a scholarship fundraiser, so that BRAG can continue to award students of color who have succeeded academically, exhibit financial need, and are interested in pursuing careers in the industry.2018 BRAG Scholarship Recipients (Courtesy/BRAG)

To date, BRAG has managed to award over one million dollars in scholarships. Scholarship recipients will join their partner companies during the Gala and receive their awards in conjunction with the 2019 Gala honorees. The Gala honorees this year are Melissa Masha, CEO and co-founder of Dagne Dover; Dapper Dan, legendary Harlem-based couturier; Eric Archibald, creative director of Diplomacy Worldwide Streetwear; and Leonardo Lawson, founder and CEO of BOND Creative MGMT, BOND Creative Search, and BOND Motion Pictures. Facilitators for the event are also composed of BRAG board and advisory members. Nicole Cokley-Dunlap, vice president of diversity and inclusion at Macy’s, Inc. and BRAG alumna, currently serves as the co-president of BRAG, alongside Shawn Outler, chief diversity officer at Macy’s Inc.BRAG Co-Presidents Nicole Cokley-Dunlap & Shawn Outler (Courtesy/BRAG)

Although BRAG is based out of Harlem, NYC, it continues to operate as a national organization. BRAG’s members are comprised of individuals who work in retail, wholesale, marketing, direct sales, or are retail entrepreneurs. Throughout the year, members can network and receive career guidance from prominent figures in fashion and retail-related industries. Members also have access to BRAG’s “Meet-Up” series, which features stellar speakers, leadership and professional development seminars, and panel discussions with experts. Exclusive job opportunities in the fashion, retail, and related industries are accessible to its members as well. Professional members are required to pay one hundred dollars a year.

Detailing her personal experience as a BRAG alumnus and now co-president, Cokley-Dunlap declared, “I would say that the mentorship and connections are what’s most meaningful. It’s not too many of us in the industry. Even if you think about the connection between Shawn and me, even though we both work at the same company, we didn’t meet each other until we joined BRAG.”

“As an alumnus, I want to be able to lead by example because I think being a BRAG alumnus is no different than being an alumnus of an HBCU or other organizations. So much is given to you through BRAG. So, how do you pay it forward? I certainly didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I wanted to lead by example.”BRAG College Club Chapter (Courtesy/BRAG)

In addition to engaging its members, sponsors, and fashion community through the Annual Scholarship and Awards Gala, BRAG offers college clubs, internship programs, a Black History Month event, and holiday toy drive as well. BRAG launched its first-ever College Club Chapter in 2001 at The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in Manhattan, NY. Today, BRAG’s college chapters can be found on the following campuses: Clark Atlanta University, Howard University, Laboratory Institute of Merchandising College, Ohio State University, Florida State University, University of Arizona, and Philadelphia University. College Club Chapters were established as a strategic pipeline to bridge the gap between mentors, and students who attend colleges and universities that support BRAG’s mission and vision. Students are allowed a variety of opportunities, such as one-on-one mentoring, networking events, and job fairs. Students are required to pay an annual membership fee of twenty-five dollars to join.

“The mentorship is one thing with the college students, but we also provide mentorship for many others throughout the industry. People approach us on a regular basis for support. It’ll be about how to approach different decisions, navigate their everyday working lives, make career moves, or different things that are happening in the business. So, mentorship is big, and it goes beyond the program that we provide,” Outler proclaimed.BRAG Summer Internship Program (Courtesy/BRAG)

During the summer, BRAG implements an internship program for students who are aspiring to obtain a full-time career in fashion and retail-related industries after graduation. The BRAG summer internship is a paid comprehensive professional development program, which includes a combination of seminars, workshops, and hands-on industry experience. Additionally, each intern receives a mentor, one-on-one counseling, a Broadway Theater experience, and opportunities to network with industry professionals. Potential candidates must be in their sophomore or junior year of studies toward a bachelor’s degree, or a senior who will graduate in the following fall school semester. All students require a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0. In terms of the selection process, BRAG utilizes the same screening that is used by companies to employ entry-level candidates for their respective training programs and entry-level positions.

“The internship is 10-weeks, but it can vary based on the partner company. We conduct a boot camp during the first week, where the students go through a combination of hard and soft skills sessions, retail math training, and they get a coach. They are also responsible for working on a case study that they present at the end of the summer. After their first week, students are placed at their intern company. Some of our partners this past summer were Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, and Nordstrom,” Cokley-Dunlap explained.BRAG Summer Internship Program (Courtesy/BRAG)

BRAG interns are placed with a sponsor company based on their interests, skills, and qualifications. The sponsor company ultimately makes the final determination of which student they will accept to work with their company. Throughout their internship, students are also required to create a case study with their assigned groups. Interns are challenged with the task of coming up with new innovative ideas related to the industry by the end of the summer program. Students are generally known for introducing unique and game-changing ideas. A significant number of interns secure full-time job offers from their host companies, following the completion of their summer internships.

“What’s rewarding is seeing our students over the summer present their case studies. We have students who joined us at the beginning of the summer and didn’t understand retail fully, then come up with concepts that we truly believe can be implemented and make a huge impact on the industry. If we had venture capitalists in the room, they would probably fund them,” Outler affirmed.

Tickets for BRAG’s 49thAnnual Scholarship and Awards Gala start at one thousand dollars for standard seating. BRAG also accepts additional donations, in any amount, to go towards their scholarship fund for students of color. For more information about BRAG and its Gala visit, https://www.bragusa.org.

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