What started out as a university tour for a family and their children turned into Clark Atlanta University’s (CAU) Art and Fashion department receiving a $100,000 grant from Macy’s Future of Style Fund and a hands-on experience for students.

Macy’s Future of Style Fund aims to provide students with scholarships and programming support, under Macy’s social purpose platform, Mission Every One, furthering the brand’s commitment to supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), creating a dynamic workforce, and providing impactful mentorship opportunities.

Associate Professor and Interim Chair of the Art and Fashion Department at CAU, BJ Arnett, said she had no idea giving a tour of the department would turn into an amazing opportunity for her students and department.

To her knowledge, Arnett said, Macy’s had recently birthed the Future Style Fund and it just so happened that one of the Macy’s executives was in Atlanta touring universities for their own children and someone directed them to CAU to look at programs in mass media.

“In their tour, they came to the art and fashion department, and I was the one available to give them the tour in our building. I didn’t know who I was talking to, I thought it was two parents and a child giving them a tour,” she said.

Somewhere in the tour, according to Arnett, the mom says, ‘I’m an alum and I love what you guys are doing, I’d like to connect with you and tell you about a program we have.’

Macy’s Future of Style Fund aims to provide students with scholarships and programming support, under Macy’s social purpose platform, Mission Every One. Photo courtesy of CAU Senior Advertising Design Major Ebony Hayes/The Atlanta Voice

“The program wasn’t on our radar, by God if they had not come through that door, I may not have known,” Arnett said. “The start of that was Ms. Agnes Godwin-Hall; She and her team quite amazingly put this program together. The whole program was already happening, and it’s dedicated to universities, but Clark being an HBCU, we stepped into something great. But the added that the students get is that experience to be face-to-face with them and the mentorship and the real understanding what industry is about.”

Arnett said she and her students have been “so excited and overwhelmed” to be a part of the Macy’s initiative. She also described the trip to New York City as a “whirlwind”.

“It was an experience that I know my students won’t forget,” she said. “The grant was spearheaded by a CAU alum who is now a VP with Macy’s. It’s one thing to have a corporation acknowledge your department’s worth and your student’s worth and the desire or need to pour into them financially as well as in mentorship. A lot of folk talks it, but they are ready to walk away after. Macy’s wanted to not only write a check, but also put their VPs in mentoring positions. That’s taking it above and beyond.”

Additionally, Arnett said it was amazing because she could point to a CAU alum and tell her students “that’s what it looks like”, and have a corporation say, ‘what can we do to help young merchandisers and future designers from HBCUs’.

“When they came up with this, they really had a heart for putting something together that wasn’t just a check but the activities that would allow the students to ask questions,” she said. “I was way too excited that everything that this Macy’s Future Style Fund what I imagined it to be, it was.”

In addition to scholarships, CAU’s Art and Fashion department will use this critical funding to produce the department’s annual Fashion Week event (April 10-14), purchase new technology and equipment.

The students were also given the opportunity to travel to New York City over two weeks ago, where they attended an all-day development workshop with Macy’s executives, visited design houses, and more.

Furthermore, Arnett reflected on the importance of giving back to HBCUs and departments such as Art and Fashion, who typically comes last in funding.

“Art and fashion departments are usually the last departments on the totem pole. It’s unfortunate, but it’s a fact,” she said. “I serve under a president who has a clear vision for our university and all of it is upward bound. Upward is the key, then you must look at corporations and what are they seeing.”

One of the things that COVID-19 did for us, Arnett said, other than the bad things, is that it shined a light on some of the disparity in the industry of art and fashion and some of the disparity between PWIs and HBCUs.

“Many corporations who understood that the Black and brown shopper accounts for approximately over seven trillion dollars I believe in sales,” she said. “They said, ‘wait a minute, we’re missing our customer, let’s take a look at that’. I talked to so many corporate heads, Macy’s included, that said hey we want to give back because it gives forward. So, when they give to the HBCU, they are now investing in the education of these students who are going to apply for the job.”

In essence, she said, they are fulfilling their own employee because when they invest in departments such as Art and Fashion, they are getting a better applicant.

“That better applicant is going to be that person that could possibly grow further in the company. When they invest financially and invest in human collateral by mentorship, they immediately become a part of that student,” she said.

Lastly, Arnett wants people to know Clark Atlanta University’s Art and Fashion department “will not be stopped because we can’t be.”

“We are putting in the work. Our students are putting in the work and we as a university are immensely proud of our students and our upward momentum. We have great supporters such as Macy’s, Puma, JCPenney’s, Levi, and many more,” she said.