Gucci's women's Fall/Winter 2018-2019 collection, presented during the Milan Fashion Week, in Milan, Italy. Picture: AP Photo/Antonio Calanni, File

Milan - Italian fashion house Gucci has launched a R23 million university scholarship program that is aimed at students who are "traditionally underrepresented" in the fashion industry.

The scholarships for students attending four-year universities will consider ethnic and gender diversity. Gucci said special consideration would be given to students attending black colleges or universities, and living in 12 North American cities: Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Orleans, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Toronto and Washington, DC.

Along with the scholarships of up to R305 000 per student for the 2020-21 academic year, Gucci also announced R15 million in grants to community-based organisations focusing on education; social justice and equity; and art and culture. 

Gucci is launching R200 million in US university scholarships aimed at reaching students who are ''traditionally underrepresented'' in the fashion industry. Picture: AP Photo/Antonio Calanni, File

Two scholarships will be awarded to design students in conjunction with the Council of Fashion Designers of America. Another 20 to 50 scholarships will be awarded by the Changemakers council to students aiming for fashion careers but not necessarily design.

Applications for both the scholarship and grant programmes opened on Monday. The grant deadline is November 7; scholarship applications close on December 31.

"With the scholarship programme, we aim to create opportunities and visibility for traditionally underrepresented creatives," said lawyer and writer Yaseen Eldik, who is co-chair of the Changemakers Council.

"Our goal is to break down barriers, particularly financial, and make fashion more diverse and inclusive."

Changemakers was initially launched as a programme to allow employees up to four days to volunteer in community programs. It was expanded earlier this year to include external outreach after the controversy over a black wool balaclava sweater that evoked racist imagery of blackface. Gucci immediately withdrew the garment from sale and said the incident would be "a powerful learning moment."

A model presents a creation by Gucci women's fall-winter 2019-2020 collection, during the Milan Fashion Week, in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, February 20, 2019. picture: Matteo Bazzi/ANSA/AP

Among its responses to date, Gucci hired Renée E Tirado as a global director for diversity based in New York in July. Tirado previously had a similar role at Major League Baseball.

The fashion house has also hired three new designers with diverse backgrounds for its Rome design office, and is in the process of hiring two more.

And Gucci is working with 10 universities, including four in Africa and three in Asia, on a fellowship programme aimed at helping "underrepresented" groups get into fashion. Fellows are being selected through design competitions and the winners will be announced later this month.

AP