New York Powerhouses: Tommy Hilfiger

New York Powerhouses: Tommy Hilfiger

New York Powerhouses: Tommy Hilfiger

In this exclusive interview, Tommy Hilfiger and Randy Cousin discuss the brand's initiatives to increase BIPOC opportunities in the fashion industry.

In this exclusive interview, Tommy Hilfiger and Randy Cousin discuss the brand's initiatives to increase BIPOC opportunities in the fashion industry.

Photography: Erik Lee Snyder

Styling: Aryeh Lappin

Text: Trishna Rikhy

Everybody recognizes the simple red, white and blue logo of Tommy Hilfiger. Since launching in 1985, the American powerhouse has fused iconic designs with styles of the zeitgeist, and Mr Hilfiger has redefined the American fashion industry. The brand’s athletic wear speaks for itself, but now more than ever, it speaks for the future of fashion, for an industry aiming for inclusivity, openness, and collaboration; a People’s Place. While the world was in lockdown, Hilfiger was working in overdrive. Following the waves of BLM protests, he launched The People’s Place in July 2020 to offer opportunities and resources to BIPOC designers. “We’ve been living with diversity and inclusion within our brand for many, many years, and we didn’t really advertise it or talk about it,” says Hilfiger. “The ultimate goal [of The People’s Place] was to embrace the BIPOC community, to give opportunities to creative young people of color who wouldn’t ordinarily have them, and to share whatever we could with them from our toolbox.” The toolbox of Tommy Hilfiger is both plentiful and pioneering. “Industry change” is an easily touted phrase, but The People’s Place is structured with three pillars—collaborations, career access, and industry leadership—aiming to enact meaningful differences and groundbreaking waves in the industry, launching collaborations with BIPOC designers, including Hilfiger’s longtime protege Romeo Hunte, and creatives. Launched this fall, Hilfiger’s Pass The Mic campaign stars a “diverse crew of pop culture icons,” such as Yara Shahidi and Anthony Ramos. The future of fashion is beginning now—it’s beginning with blueprints laid out by the greats. With meaningful collaborations. With Tommy Hilfiger.

Read the full exclusive interview with Hilfiger and Randy Cousin (Tommy Hilfiger, SVP Product Concepts and People’s Place Program) below.

V MAGAZINE: What made you want to launch the People’s Place Program? And what about this particular moment in time, felt like the right time to embark on this journey?

TOMMY HILFIGER: I’ll start with a little bit of history. When I was a teenager, I opened my first business, it was called People’s Place. It was a boutique shop and I wanted to be able to dress everyone in the latest fashion from New York City. It was in Elmira, New York, which is about a five-hour drive from the city. I used to go back and forth in my Volkswagen and buy cool clothes from the streets of New York, bring them back, sell them to my friends and schoolmates. Eventually, it turned into a multi-store chain, but the whole idea was that it was a place for the people. I wanted to embrace all different types of people and share my love for fashion and music with them.  Fast forward to the summer of 2020 and the BLM (Black Lives Matter) movement. It was like, okay, well, diversity and inclusion have always been at the core of the brand, but we don’t talk about it, we’ve never really put it at the forefront. So, Randy (Cousin) and I were talking about how to do it, and we decided to develop what has now become the People’s Place Program. Our ultimate goal is to embrace the BIPOC+ community, give opportunity to creative people who wouldn’t ordinarily have the opportunity, and to share whatever we can share from our toolbox, to collaborate and give back, unlock doors to a better career journey for young people. So, Randy, if you could talk about some of the details and some of the organizations we are involved with…

RANDY COUSIN: Absolutely. The People’s Place Program really is, as Tommy said, our opportunity to create true foundational change. It’s an opportunity for us to amplify the voices of the next generation of BIPOC+ thought leaders and creatives because without their genius and their contribution, fashion can’t exist in the future. And for us, this is not just an opportunity to create change as a brand, but to create a blueprint that other brands can follow and build a strong movement. The program is comprised of three dynamic pillars to help achieve long-term and much-needed change in the industry. Our first pillar centers around creating partnerships and collaborations with the next generation of BIPOC+ creators. We recently did a collaboration with Romeo Hunte, who represents the great creatives in our industry. This was an opportunity to collaborate and share his talent with the globe not just through product but as a voice for change and social impact.  Our second pillar really is a game-changer, and it’s my favorite – it’s all about career access. We use our brand’s resources to create opportunity and access for the BIPOC+ community through mentorship as well as sponsorship. We have some great partnerships with Harlem’s Fashion Row and The Fashion and Race Database, and we see them as game changers to create more conversation around the histories and contributions of underrepresented communities in fashion. Last but not least, industry leadership is a topic that’s so important. We’re working with our parent company PVH to do an industry-wide study, looking at every level of leadership in our organization. We’re dedicated to seeing increased representation for underrepresented communities in the fashion landscape, and learning about how our brand can lead that charge.

V: Absolutely. That is so incredible. Randy, I know you just mentioned the first pillar touches on partnerships and representation. Who are some emerging designers of color that you plan on bringing attention to with this program? And beyond giving them this incredible platform, how are you collaborating with them?

RC: When we drew up the plans for the People’s Place Program, it was an opportunity to work with talent like Romeo Hunte. Both Tommy and Romeo really care about things that are so important to the BIPOC+ culture and community. The idea was to tell a new story for today and to lean into things like sustainability, diversity, and inclusion. In addition to that, it’s so important to highlight the contributions of BIPOC+ talent both in front of and behind the camera. We had the opportunity to work with an amazing cast and crew to bring this story to life, and also give their talent a stage. We worked with the great Ronan Mckenzie, who is one of my favorite photographers in the industry today, and Nathan Klein, who is a talented stylist. It was also fun to think about how we could take the story further. Tommy and I were talking about how it would be amazing for TommyXRomeo to have a billboard in New York and London because the collection was available in Selfridge’s Yellow Drop room. So, instead of doing a typical billboard, we said let’s collaborate with talented local artists to create beautiful murals. We worked with Uzo Njoku in New York City and Annan Affotey in London, and it was amazing to see how this was a life-changing experience for them as well. So, it really is proof positive for how our industry can think in a larger way when storytelling, collaborating, and giving a stage to BIPOC+ creators.

V: Wow, definitely. And how can emerging BIPOC+ designers get involved with this program?

RC: We just announced our partnership with Harlem’s Fashion Row, a remarkable talent-cultivating engine for BIPOC+ talent, on the New Legacy Program, where we will help mentor three emerging designers and give them a global stage to reinterpret our iconic prep styles for today. In addition to that, we’ve also partnered with The Fashion and Race Database – if you haven’t heard of it, get on board! It is an amazing platform created by Kimberly Jenkins that shines light on underrepresented cultures and communities.

V: I’m definitely going to circle back on The Fashion and Race Database with you, but Tommy, after years of mentorship, you and your longtime mentee, Romeo Hunte finally came together for the groundbreaking collection that Randy spoke about. What was it like working together on that, in this capacity?

TH: I’ve been mentoring Romeo for several years. He showed me his collection early on, and I thought he had a lot of talent. I saw a lot of me in him. I saw a lot of drive and spirit and passion, and I thought, okay, if I could give advice to him, maybe I can help steer him in the right direction. I’ve helped him edit his collections, introduced him to factories and PR people, as well as organize his fashion shows. When we started the People’s Place Program, we knew Romeo would be part of it. I was amazed at the product because it was above and beyond what I ever thought it could be. I’m so proud because I’m still a product person at heart, and when I see great product, it really thrills me. When I saw great product coming from Romeo’s mind and with Randy’s execution and creative direction, I thought, okay, well now we have something to be very proud of and something we should celebrate.

V: To jog back to the FRD now, can you describe your partnership with the online platform and how it will support the new research study, “The Unsung History of American Sportswear”?

RC: As a Black man in fashion who grew up in the same industry, I am so passionate and proud of the work that we are doing with The Fashion and Race Database. We are funding and supporting a research study, “The Unsung History of American Sportswear,” where we will uncover the often-overlooked influences of Black American culture on signature Tommy Hilfiger styles and American sportswear overall. Some of the information that we’ll touch on will be denim and the cotton trade, the origin of preppy style and how it links to Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which is a story that’s not often told. There is also expression through social activist movements, and, the streetwear and music culture from the 90s and early 2000s. It will be an incredible journey that we’ll learn from as a brand, and we can’t wait to share those stories.

V: And how does this program contribute to Tommy Hilfiger’s mission to create fashion that wastes nothing and welcomes all?

RC: When you really look at the things that are important today – diversity, inclusion, sustainability – it tells you where fashion is going and needs to go. This has always been part of our mission, and it is at the heart and at the forefront of everything we do internally and externally. We recognize that there’s still far more work to be done in this space, but we are committed to doing the work.

V: That really is just incredible. Jumping off the point of collaboration, other than this program, what are some other internal initiatives that the company is taking to increase BIPOC+ representation?

RC: We have dynamic business resource groups internally that help us carry on the conversation around the change that we want to see in the industry. It’s important to always be able to create a safe space with representation so that we can continue to learn from each other, innovate and take this work forward. 

V: Certainly. And one final question: what does the future of the People’s Place Program look like to you, and branching off of that, what does the future of fashion look like to you?

TH: Well, our fall 2021 brand campaign, which is called Pass The Mic, also connects to the idea of the People’s Place Program in a way. We have a diverse crew of talent who are using spoken words to inspire and motivate young people. Anthony Ramos from ‘Hamilton’ is one of the stars, alongside Wizkid, an incredible musician. Yara Shahidi is one of our beautiful stars, speaking from her heart to the public on our behalf. There is also Jack Harlow, an extremely talented and stylish rapper, and DJ Cassidy, the world-renowned DJ, and producer. So, we have a diverse crew of pop culture icons representing our brand and speaking words of wisdom. They are sending motivation out to young people who are trying very hard to excel in life but might need that mentorship or direction for their journey. We feel that it is an extension of our program and how we can make a difference in the world.

RC: Through the People’s Place Program, we can utilize the power of our platform to keep advancing underrepresented talent in the industry, passing the mic, as Tommy said, and giving them the stage to shine. The future is promising in how we can really drive impact within fashion. We recognize that change cannot happen overnight. I say this all the time, it’s a journey, right? Not a sprint. And if we continue to be honest and humble in every step that we take, we really will work towards continuous and consistent change.

Makeup Brittany Whitfield (The Only Agency) / Hair Orlando George / Model Imari Karanja (Next) / Photo assistant Max Louis Miller


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