Morehouse College, a prominent Historically Black College and University (HBCU) and the country’s only private liberal arts college for men, recently inspired a new clothing collection by Polo Ralph Lauren as part of the company’s renewed approach to racial equity.
In 2020, Ralph Lauren Corporation re-examined their approaches to representation and inclusivity and unveiled a new set of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion initiatives (DE&I).
“We will examine how we portray the American Dream—in the stories we tell, the creators we champion, the faces we elevate, the families we hero, and the media partners we support,” said company founder Ralph Lauren and Patrice Louvet, the president and CEO of the Ralph Lauren Corporation, in an open letter to staff.
As part of this commitment, the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation released a clothing collection exclusively for Morehouse and Spelman College in March 2022. Spelman College is an Atlanta-based HBCU and liberal arts institution for women.
“This collection expresses the spirited history, deep sense of community, and legacy of timeless dressing at historically Black colleges and universities,” said Lauren in a press release announcing the partnership. “It’s so much more than a portrayal of a collegiate design sensibility. It’s about sharing a more complete and authentic portrait of American style and of the American dream—ensuring stories of Black life and experiences are embedded in the inspiration and aspiration of our brand.”
In addition to the collection, the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation pledged $2 million for student scholarships at Morehouse College, Spelman College and 10 additional HBCUs to be administered by the United Negro College Fund.
A Brief History of Morehouse College and “The Five Wells of Leadership”
Morehouse was founded in a church basement in 1867 by Rev. William Jefferson White, Rev. Richard C. Coulter and Rev. Edmund Turney. Initially named the Augusta Institute, and then Atlanta Baptist College, the school changed its name to Morehouse College in 1913 to honor Henry Lyman Morehouse, corresponding secretary of American Baptist Home Mission.
In 2011, former Morehouse President Dr. Robert Franklin highlighted five important expectations that Morehouse men should aspire to during their time at university. Titled “The Five Wells,” they assert that Morehouse men should present themselves as well-read, well-spoken, well-traveled, well-dressed, and well-balanced. The “Five Wells” are displayed on banners throughout campus, and many students attest that “well-dressed” is the quality that feels most pertinent to daily campus life.
Garments from the Ralph Lauren collection highlight styles worn by students in the 20th century, capturing the colleges’ history and recognizing its impact on American style.
“Historically Black colleges and universities have uniquely been centers of both intellectual discourse and cultural influence for more than 150 years,” said President of Morehouse College David A. Thomas, Ph.D., in a press release announcing the partnership. “The Morehouse partnership with Ralph Lauren intelligently, creatively and boldly puts this intersection on full display, reflecting the breadth of impact we have had in driving societal transformation throughout our history.”
Robert F. Smith’s Work to Empower Morehouse Students
In 2019, Robert F. Smith made national headlines for donating more than $34 million to Morehouse graduates and their parents to help clear their student loan debt. In an interview with SiriusXM, President Thomas asserted that since Smith’s gift, “…there have been more eight-figure gifts to Historically Black colleges than in the entire existence of Historically Black colleges, even when you control for inflation.”
After his gift to Morehouse, Smith launched Student Freedom Initiative, a nonprofit that offers alternatives to high-interest private student loans to juniors and seniors majoring in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math fields at participating HBCUS. The non-profit offers income-contingent funding alternatives to federal loan programs, including Parent PLUS loans, as well as student support resources and internship opportunities.
Learn more about Smith’s work through Student Freedom Initiative in support of HBCU students.