Founder of high-fashion menswear label A-cold-wall*, Samuel Ross has long been a noted presence in fashion and design. However, Ross’ success is not limited to his own business, but extends to include his tremendous outreach and continued support and encouragement of others, earning him global recognition. Ross’ initiatives and grant programs are aimed at encouraging POC representation across a variety of design-related industries — a diversity that Ross believes the fashion industry severely lacks.
In June 2020, many turned their attention to pervasive systemic racism in the wake of the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd and the subsequent global protests. Growing awareness of racial inequalities in everyday life led many small businesses to reconsider how they could contribute to rectifying harmful disparities.
“We need more visibility and collaboration between the arts and design institution and Black artists, the design industry must engage,” Ross told Wallpaper at the time.
Using his status as a well-respected fashion designer with immense connections in the industry, Ross launched a Black British and POC Artists grant program. Grants of £2,500 each span ten design categories, each awarded to Black or POC artists of “exceptional talent” in the designated fields.
Alongside the grants, Ross also pioneered a Black Lives Matter financial aid program and a £10,000 donation to “our people on frontline”. The selection of the 2020 grant winners was in collaboration with Daniel Arsham, an artist who pledged an additional £25,000 to the initiative. Ross’ team received an extraordinary number of submissions and his team read every letter. They focused on selecting small businesses that had been operating for 18 months or more, picking winners who brought something novel to their respective industries.
Jermaine Craig’s tech project Kwanda was One of the 2020 winners was Jermaine Craig’s tech project Kwanda, a “digital village” built on strengthening networks for Black communities and mobilizing transparent fundraising that goes towards sustainable local solutions.
Ross has continued to expand his initiative with the creation of an advisory board to contribute to the selection of the 2021 grant winners. The board includes a council of members of the Design Museum, the Royal College of Art, University of Westminster and the British Fashion Council. Increased collaboration from large actors in the design industry helps to identify opportunities for career advancement for the grant winners, further integrating the POC talent Ross has awarded into prestigious design opportunities that may have been previously closed off to them.
Ross’ Forward to his 2021 announcement echoes these same sentiments. “We’re missing perspectives, contributions and creativity that level beyond commercial virtue placements, score sheets and influencer fees,” he writes. “Already a reality amongst the marginalized, barely visible — often invisible — communities that form Britain’s modern society, it seems implausible to not embed a layer of structure and coordination to begin changing this reality, step by step, year on year.”
Efforts like Ross’ that seek to remedy systemic inequalities in the arts are what will bring us closer to ultimately achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal for Reduced Inequalities.
The 2021 British Black and POC Grant winners are:
Sculpture: Hsi-Nong Huang (Honorable mentions: Aaron Kudi, Sandra Poulson)
Furniture: Mac Collins
AR and VR: Nigel Matambo
Fashion: Randa Kherba Feben (Honorable mention: Yufei Liu)
Film: Reman Sadani, Nayanika Chatterjee
Writing and Literature: Oluwaseun Olayiwola, Harvey Dimond
Ross told Vogue UK, “My primary thought process in collating the grant list was to understand the struggles businesses are facing in different industries, and to look at which fields are disproportionately underrepresented.”
Learn more about Ross and his initiatives here.