Dear Culture

The Story Behind the Iconic Ralph Lauren Morehouse & Spelman Collection

Episode 23
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The Ralph Lauren collaboration with two of the most notable HBCUs in the country was a significant moment in fashion history that was largely embraced by the culture. Panama Jackson speaks with two people who were instrumental in bringing the vision to life, Morehouse and Spelman alumni, James Jeter & Dara Douglas.

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Ralph Lauren [00:00:11] I have always believed in the American Dream since I started my company over 50 years ago. I considered our greatest responsibility to understand, be inspired by and inspired to the dreams of all those who call this country home. When I was approached with the idea of a collection inspired by the heritage and traditions of the timeless dressing of historically black colleges and universities, it became clear that part of our design sensibility has been missing. This special collaboration with the students, the faculty and alumni of Morehouse and Spelman Colleges two esteemed institutions attended by our own employees, extends the authenticity of our brand heritage, writing untold chapters in our storytelling. A portrait of American style and a vision of the American dream would be incomplete without black experiences like these. I’m so honored to be part of it.

Panama Jackson [00:01:27] What’s going on, everybody? Welcome to Dear Culture, the podcast for buy and about black culture here on the Grio Black Podcast Network. And this is a special episode for me because I went to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. I think according to our lore, God created Earth and then Morehouse. So something like that. I can’t remember the order specifically, but they’re very close in proximity. I think we just got left out of one of those scriptures in the Bible for some reason. But I am joined today by two people who have impact culture and one of the most interesting important, artistically amazing ways. And they have cost me a lot of money, the kind of money where I actually had to go to my wife and be like, Look, I just need you to understand that as soon as this thing drops, I am going to be spending an obscene amount of money on this this collection that the homies. That’s because I had to pretend like the homies have put together. So, ladies and gentlemen, on today’s episode of Dear Culture, we are going to be talking about the intersection of fashion, culture, HBCUs. We’re going to be talking about the Ralph Lauren Morehouse College Spelman collection and a portion of a Dream video with the people responsible for it. Mr. James Jeter and Ms. Dara Douglas, can you please put your hands together for my for my guests.

James Jeter [00:02:53] Thank you for having us.

Panama Jackson [00:02:55] Yeah. How are you all doing?

Dara Douglas [00:02:57] Very well.

Panama Jackson [00:02:58] I’m so excited to have you all here because I’m somebody who. So. And we’re going to talk about all this stuff when when when the news broke that there was a collection coming out. And thankfully, I went to Morehouse. So I got to be one of the people that was very excited about, you know, but all the haters come and hatin all this. All this stuff pops out. And then what it did was set off all kinds of conversations in our communities about this right. I’m a writer. I wrote an article about it like everybody else did. So I’m very excited to have you both here so that we can talk about it. So before we get into it, I’m going to do your introductions. I want to introduce you both so people understand who you are and then we’ll get into the conversation. So we’re going to start with you, James. James, you graduated the class of 2013. We did not overlap. I’m class of ’01. So you were by the time I was fully in the workforce, by the time you even stepped on stepped on campus. But you were the concept, design and special projects lead at Ralph Lauren. You’re from D.C. so I live in Washington, D.C. Shout outs to the home team. You started your career Ralph Lauren at 16 at the rugby Ralph Lauren store in Georgetown, where I also frequented during your sophomore year at Morehouse. You worked at the Rugby Ralph Lauren Store in New York. Interned for the Rugby Concept Design Team. Interned at boy. You just did all you done all you’ve done all that you can do. And based on things that I’ve read you more or less spearheaded, this campaign if I’m understanding, we’ll dig more into that. Dara Douglas who we did overlap with you were at Spelman in 2003. So I am guaranteed to have crossed paths with you because I spent a lot of time on Spelman’s Campus, even double majored in French at one point, just so I could take all my classes over there. You you began your career, Ralph Lauren, in 2013. You have a master’s degree in curatorial studies with a concentration in textile conservation from the Fashion Institute of Technology. I got to be honest, I don’t know any of that means, but that’s why I don’t do fashion. Right. You have an AAS? I don’t even? Is that what is an AAS?

Dara Douglas [00:05:05] It’s an applied associates in science and a fashion design from Parsons School of Design.

Panama Jackson [00:05:12] Okay. Yeah. You just reading you all’s bios taught me so much about things I know nothing about. Until recently, you were the director of inspirational content at the Ralph Lauren Library, and you’ve since joined the newly established design with Intent Department as a product and brand lead. What is design with intent? What does that mean? I saw that in your description. Like, what does that mean?

Dara Douglas [00:05:35] So the design content department grew out of a working group and essentially we are looking at our brand codes in the way in which we create and to make it more inclusive, more diverse and more reflective of American culture. So this project was essentially the first project of the department pre the depart the launch of the department.

Panama Jackson [00:05:59] That is quite an amazing start. I don’t even know how you I don’t know where you go from there. Like, as far as I’m concerned, I had a question I was gonna ask y’all later about like putting y’all selves on Mt. Rushmore here. But, you know, I’m going to we’ll get there. So let’s start with the collection overall. How did this collection come to be like? I’m genuinely curious. Curious about the initial thoughts, the ideation. How did it happen?

James Jeter [00:06:22] Yeah. So I can I can frame it up. So toward the end of 2020, we started having these really courageous conversations around the company that we sort of called courageous conversations where we really became kind of vulnerable and honest around, you know, race around identity, around ways in which Ralph Lauren as a brand has helped to shape the world view on American style. One of which I think has really kind of been spurred through collegiate style. And historically, you know, Ralph Lauren has done that through the lens of Ivy League schools. And so. You know, amid these conversations with executive leaders and, you know, sort of the spectrum of kind of our stakeholders as employees, we started having these really amazing and, again, courageous conversations. One of those conversations centered around, you know, Ralph asking me how I was doing and kind of where I was, what my disposition was at the time. And, you know, I told him that none of my heroes at the brand looked like me. And what I meant by that was, you know, as a creative at this brand, you know, I look at a lot of the folks who, you know, kind of are the are the foundation of the brand. You think of Mary Randolph Carter, you think of Doug Bihlmaier. You know, you think of John Wrazej. You think of these really incredible forces that helped to build what Ralph Lauren is. And none of them look like me. And so, you know, he asked me, you know, so what would you want to do? How can we change this? How can we make it better? And I immediately went to, you know, this kind of collegiate sensibility and how, again, historically, you know, we’ve only shown it through the lens of Ivy League schools. But then I thought back to Morehouse and I thought back to Spelman, and while I was at Morehouse, you know, I pledged Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. and, you know, my chapter advisor, Henry Goodgame would take us through these really old Morehouse yearbooks. And one of the oldest ones that he had in his office was a yearbook from 1924 1925. And his primary reason for taking us through those was to show us some of our founding members of the chapter. You know, we sort of came on the campus in 1924, so a lot of our founding members were in that book. But as he took us through that book, I couldn’t help but see the incredible style of these students from from the 1920s, you know, kind of going into the 1930s. And it always sort of stained in my in my brain. And so when I saw a lot of these images that Ralph Lauren has kind of put out into the world through these inspirational devices, I always thought about Morehouse every single time, and it felt like such a seamless integration into our established brand DNA that it was a no brainer that we hadn’t done it thus far. And so from there, I started showing him these images that Henry Goodgame had shown me from these very same yearbooks, and it blew them away. I mean, he was extremely inspired. But I think, again, going back to this vulnerable conversation, he didn’t realize that it existed. He didn’t know about HBCUs. And I think the same is true not only with a lot of folks at our company, but I think also our our consumer base at large. They just were not illuminated by this, the stories of Morehouse and Spelman and more broadly, the stories of HBCUs. And so from there, you know, Ralph really kinda gave me the creative freedom to to dream and to have a vision and to see it through kind of unencumbered, you know, didn’t really micromanage and kind of put his twist on it. He allowed me to to lead the team. And then, of course, you know, Dara having been an alumna of Spelman brought her in to kind of again, augment the authenticity of our engagement with Spelman to ensure that, you know, we were being as authentic, as mindful, as thoughtful as possible as we told the stories of these two institutions.

Speaker 5 [00:10:38] theGrio. Black Podcast Network is here. Everything you’ve been waiting for, Black Culture Amplified. Find your voice on the Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio Mobile App and tune in everywhere. Great podcasts are heard.

Panama Jackson [00:10:53] All right, so then what are your individual parts of this like? You gave me the big framing of it, but like, how did. Like what? I might be asking ridiculous questions, so just bear with me. But how did you all. Like what were your individual pieces of putting this all together? Like, how did you all do that?

Dara Douglas [00:11:10] Well, honestly, James was the spearhead for the entire collection, so every aspect of it, he had his hands on it and it was really through his vision. But he can speak more about that. And I helped to like augment the Spelman portion of the collection and making sure that the white dress was all white and that we didn’t put it with brown pumps in the style. And I was like, No, it has to be black pumps, you know, like these really strategic details and understanding some of these details and then simultaneously helping to ground like the historical context because of my fashion history background. So that’s primarily what I was there for.

Panama Jackson [00:11:51] Yeah. Great job, by the way. I just want to say like that. Y’all. I mean, before you hop in to answer, I was so impressed by how. It was so wonderful seeing like the old Morehouse and Spelman type stuff, but like everything looked like you all nailed it. Like when people say nailed it, you know, it’s kind of jokingly, but y’all like legitimately nailed that look. Like, I felt like, yeah, that’s exactly what Morehouse would look like back then. Like the way everything was staged and the videos and the photos and the dress and all that stuff like it legitimately to me, looked like the vision that I would have had if I was like tasked with walking. I mean, I wouldn’t, y’all I don’t have y’all vision let me get that let me get that straight. But like if I’m walking around, like, what do I think Morehouse and Spelman would have looked like? Like it looked like that. Like you. You all completely executed something that looked how I thought it would look. So mucho kudos on that like that. It was awesome. I love it. I genuinely love this whole thing.

James Jeter [00:12:50] Thank you. Thank you. Yeah. And just a piggyback off of Dara, you know, and I think she also provided sort of a credibility again for us to engage with Spelman in an authentic way. Us, again, being alumni of the colleges, we were able to also create, you know, and kind of bridge these these authentic connections to the schools and which was important, you know, again, to say, hey, we want to do this amazing collaboration, to have someone to actually call that trusts you, that knows you, that is still very much engaged with the college, is very important in terms of just having that credibility one, but also having that trust to know that, you know, these these folks won’t, you know, show us in a bad light and, you know, it will show us in the most authentic way possible. But again, just to kind of further clarify, you know, again, my role is really kind of to as a concept designer on a daily basis, my my goal and my role at Ralph Lauren, is to tell stories and I try to tell stories in the most authentic way possible. And so even through this project it was really about coming up with the concept like what are we really trying to say and how can we say it in a way that, you know, sort of yields the highest and greatest impact? And so that started with images at Ralph Lauren were very, you know, visual. A lot of folks in the creative world are very visual. So the first thing was finding the best photos and images and texts that I could possibly find. You know, again, all of it was through the schools, meaning, you know, we engaged with their archives, we engaged with their yearbooks. And I think the reason why it was so impactful was because, you know, we didn’t make any of this up. You know, it’s it’s literally straight out of the history books, quite literally. It just is a story that hasn’t been told on the stage. But we try to really be critical around what images kind of, you know, overarchingly tell the story, how can we tell it? In it’s clearest and purest form. And so a lot of the images that that you ended up seeing in the actual campaign, we can flip two pages in those yearbooks to show where those images were inspired by.

Dara Douglas [00:15:09] You know, we had a tremendous amount of support from the archivists at Spelman and then also at the Atlanta University Center, the the library, which, you know, at the time we called it Club Woody, but officially WOODRUFF Library. So we were able to partner with them to, you know, delve into the archives to gain access to some of the images. And then also just, you know, being a student on campus. And to James’s point, you know, Henry Googame walking him through that yearbook, you know, walking through the halls of the the registrar’s office when I was at Spelman and then seeing those images, they were essentially seared in my mind of, you know, this this times 1920s. And what exactly did the students look like? How did they carry themselves in just a snapshot in time, essentially, yeah.

Panama Jackson [00:16:01] You kind of delved right into a question I was just about to ask. But let’s take a real quick break here. And when we come back, I’m going to I’m going to jump right into the question. So stay tuned here on dear culture. You are now listening to theGrio Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

[00:16:18] Don’t forget, you can listen to theGrio’s Writing Black Podcast hosted by me, Maiysha Kai. This isn’t your typical writing podcast. We interview any and everybody that has anything to do with writing from comics to poets to authors to journalists, to politicians and more. Remember, that’s Writing Black every Sunday, right here on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, download theGrio’s app to listen to Writing Black wherever you are.

Panama Jackson [00:16:48] Alright we’re back here on Dear Culture, and I’m sitting here with Dara Douglas and James Jeter, the people who helped put together this amazing Ralph Lauren, Morehouse College, Spelman College collection that so many of us either got our hands on or tried to get our hands on and I got stories about that. From standing in line or from seeing people stand in line, I was able to order my stuff online and pick it up from the store, but there were lines at the stores here in D.C., so good job. So I have a question kind of about what it’s like. You use the word unencumbered, James. And that’s interesting to me because I I’m not expecting a. Let’s be honest, big white brand to basically be like here, go ahead and authentically put this thing together that represents who you are, how you see yourself, how you want, how you want to be viewed like that. That kind of surprised me because I don’t know if this happens frequently or ever at all, but everything that I’ve read about the collection, I’m like, Man, they really had like the ability to genuinely put together the thing that they wanted to put together. And that does not that does not sound normal to me from a $1,000,000,000 company. So what does it feel like to have not only the opportunity to do what you want to do, but that represents a space that I’m assuming meant so much to who you all are as people, because everybody I know that came out of Morehouse or Spelman like, we view that as an essential part of our identity, like helping us get to where we are. Like, you know, whether you loved or hated the experience is still a part of you and one that that, you know, it builds a bridge with a lot of other people. So for me to even see this video and to see the collection and look at it and feel so seen, like I was really excited by that. But what is that feeling like internally? Like you get to do that as your job to genuinely make sure that you were seen. What is that like?

James Jeter [00:18:42] Yeah. I’ll, I’ll quickly start. I mean, so there’s a few different components to, to this answer. I think one is the dis the destination was in the journey, meaning it was as much about the process by which we got there as it was about the product that we were able to achieve. And so meaning we not only tried to open the aperture to the stories that we tell, but we also open the aperture to the way in which we allow others to lead in the organization, which I think is really important. I think the second thing is, you know, we we didn’t just sort of arrive in 2020, you know, kind of ready to take on such a big project that such a large corporation. I mean, as you heard, Dara’s resume and then obviously as kind of having gone to Morehouse and Spelman having been at the company over ten years, there is a lot of work. You know, all the books that we read in order to be prepared for for these conversations, in order to be prepared to tell these stories, it was this kind of gradual, you know, growth and learning that happened over the course of our lifetimes that landed us here, you know, it felt like a lot of the work that we’ve done in the past, both personally and professionally and and at school, you know, reading. BALDWIN ETCetera prepared us to have these conversations. And so it really felt like the culmination of all the mentors and all the folks and all the shoulders of the giants that were standing on for us to then be able to to tell these stories, because, again, I think it’s less about us as individuals and more about the sort of village of individuals that have poured all this knowledge into us for us to then be able to just be the vehicle to tell the story.

Dara Douglas [00:20:34] Yeah. It’s been surreal. The first time that it really kind of hit me, you know, the scope and scale of what we had created was the first time that James showed me the clip of the the short clip of the film that was going to be essentially like an introduction for everyone to understand the collection. And I started crying because it was so beautiful, even though I was there at the photo shoot, even though, you know, I had worked with the styling and understood, okay, well, how are we going to do the the models hair? How are we going to. How is the makeup going to be like all of these things and meeting, you know, the amazing photographer, Nadine Aguirre. Like seeing her in action, you know, all of that was like, okay, we’re here, we’re doing this. But it really wasn’t until that exact moment of seeing the film and seeing it all pull together that I felt this overwhelming feeling of knowing that I was going to be able to share my love of my my alma mater with the world. Like it was there in the back of my mind. But it didn’t honestly become real until that moment.

Speaker 5 [00:21:46] The significance of the black aesthetic at HBCUs from the twenties, thirties, forties and fifties has a lot to do with self-determination. Which is one of the main reasons that so many of us choose to attend HBCUs and to educate our children at HBCUs.

Dara Douglas [00:22:08] And then I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude. And it’s still kind of crazy that, you know, this company that I respect in that I worked for for a number of years, that we’ve created a collection that essentially is kind of, you know, for me and my friends to wear. Like, it’s kind of it’s it’s a crazy thing. It is crazy. But to James’s point, it was all that preparation that got us to this point, you know, all of these the understanding of our level of education. But then simultaneously we call it like Polo University, you know, being a member of of the the the the student body at Polo in getting, you know, education there. So there’s all of these kind of nuances and, you know, which belt is supposed to go with this look like there’s these subtle things that are there that you have to just kind of you see and you learn and it’s something that comes over time. But then simultaneously there’s some things that are kind of innate. And so with James specifically, you know, I’m going to jump to this story of when James met Ralph. I’m going to jump ahead. Well, actually, because the past when James was working at the rugby store and Ralph came in and he Ralph has told this story before, and he said he saw James and he was like, you know, I saw him and I knew it. He had it. He had it. And it was the way that he had his whole look pulled together. So there’s partially there’s like innate style, innate sense of understanding how to pull things together. And then it’s the combination of, you know, Polo University that essentially got us to this point.

Panama Jackson [00:23:55] By the way, there is a very specific black I mean way that black dudes managed to pull off like that full polo outfit that I remember very well that if you nailed that look, it was a model ass look, man. So whatever, however that look was, I could just imagine, like, oh, yeah, that’s it right there. That’s. That’s it right there. This guy gets it. I can see that. All right, so. You all put this thing together. And again, I’ve already said it several times, but it bears repeating. It’s very impressive. Like, I don’t even I’m not even sure I can fully grasp how, like, how much work went into all this. But it comes out. I remember seeing that clip. I think it was like a minute and some change clip that hit the Internet. And all of us at Morehouse and Spelman were like, yo, like there’s a and there’s like this short clip in there that showed, like, the jacket. And I was like, I’m getting that jacket. I don’t care how much it costs. Like, I’m getting that jacket and the day that draw the day that thing released I remember, I must have been the only person checking my email at like 8:00 in the morning I saw, Oh, it’s available. And I clicked on and I ordered the jacket. Everybody else was like, How in the world did you pull this off? I’m like, I just check my email at the right time. But anyway, all right, so you guys put this thing is put together, it gets released out to the public. You got the trailer, you got all this stuff. What was the reception like? Because I almost think amongst the homies amongst your peoples. Like this kind of puts you in superstar territory, right? Like, listen. y’all. I got a collection out here. Like, I’m not just a regular somebody. It’s a collection that all y’all want by the way, like a sold out kinda it’s like a sneaker drop, basically. Like this stuff came out, and all of a sudden, everybody wants it. People are spending all the money. People looking through the items, trying to make sure you get the tank top. The shorts. Them Spelman jackets were so fly. My goodness. Like I love the Morehouse one. I have it. That Spelman jack I try to get it for my daughter. Who? You ask her? She’s going to Spelman. No questions. What was the reception like after it dropped? Both internally? So tell me about it internally in the company, because I’m curious about that. But also like to the masses of the public, to us, those for whom this collection was intended in the way that we received it.

James Jeter [00:26:02] Yeah. I mean, I’ll start super quickly. I mean, I think internally, you know, we had been working on this for, you know, almost two years really. So starting these conversations in 2020 and then it had not released until 2022. And so it was a really kind of emotional ride, I think for a lot of people on both sides, those who understood and knew the history of these HBCUs and those who learned about them on the journey. And I think initially folks didn’t really know what the reception would be because it was so novel to this company and to really this industry. I mean, there haven’t really been a lot of fashion brands at this level to really tell such a rich story about HBCUs. And so I think there was this perception of, you know, this is new. What will this reaction be? And obviously, Dara and I knew from the very beginning that when when we released this, the impact that it would have and that it would it would resonate across generations and it would resonate across cultures just because of how inspiring the story is, quite, quite frankly. And then I think externally it was overwhelming, you know, just seeing whether it be on social media or whether it be in all of our group chats. I know all of us have our own individual group chats that started conversations, good or bad. But I think I think overarchingly it was overwhelmingly positive. And, you know, even the the ones that could be perceived as negative, you know, I think it was really just about starting the conversation, engaging in these conversations. And where we ended up at the end of these conversations is better than where we started because at least we got a chance to kind of talk through it. And, you know, and I think that’s what’s so beautiful about this, the fact that we’re, you know, almost seven months out from the launch and we’re still having these conversations. And, you know, I don’t think it’s easy to really assume what the true impact will be long term because we’re still within a year of the launch. And so what about a kid who saw that billboard, you know, who grew up in a world where these images exist, who wanted to start their own brand or, you know, some kid at another corporation that wanted to tell their story about their HBCU at a different brand within fashion or without it. So yeah, I just think I love to say that the response was just overwhelming, just sort of overarchingly. Yeah.

Dara Douglas [00:28:41] All right. I do. I do hope. And I think and again, to James’s point we don’t know, like the the long term impact. But I suspect that this has, you know, had an impact for larger companies, large corporations, understanding HBCU’s and how to engage with HBCUs. And because our collection was like a 360 approach. So there was a donation a UNCF donation through for scholarships to Spelman and Morehouse and then ten other HBCUs. We have internship recruitment, so like early career developments. So hopefully it’s not, you know, that they understand it wasn’t just the clothing and it wasn’t just a story, but it’s also the the film, you know, the 37 minutes of or was it 27 minutes? It feels like 37.

Panama Jackson [00:29:35] 27.

Dara Douglas [00:29:36] But it honestly, there’s hours worth of film that was cut that, you know, so James had to edit that down. There’s just there’s a tremendous amount of substance there that hopefully people understand, you know, that they’re not going to just look at black culture and dilute black culture down to entertainment and athletics and that there’s there’s so much more in understanding HBCU’s in their impact is just, you know, one drop in the bucket of the expansiveness of black culture. So. I’m excited to see what could potentially happen next. And I feel like there is like a tremendous amount of magnitude with it. But then there’s also those times where I can’t believe that we actually did it. So it’s like this this combination of, you know, pure like disbelief, and then simultaneously this hope in this this dream of its long reach.

Speaker 5 [00:30:34] theGrio Black Podcast Network is Here. Everything You’ve Been Waiting For. Black Culture Amplified. Find your voice on the Black Podcast Network. Listen today on theGrio Mobile App and tune in everywhere. Great podcasts are heard.

Panama Jackson [00:30:49] Let’s talk about this film. So I, I remember watching it when it came out again. I wrote an article about I think I called like ten Thoughts, Prayers and concerns or something like that because, you know, we all religious about the drop whatever. I don’t even think there were any concerns in there. Maybe an enabler. I don’t know. We’ll get to that in a minute. But like I remember watching that and I’m like, okay, so one this is a documentary.

Dr. Lawrence Edward [00:31:10] Howard Thurman, who arrived as a freshman in 1919, said that when he went to chapel for the first time, doctor Hope was the speaker, he arrived at the podium and his first words were young gentleman. Howard Thurman said the words were startling and literally stabbed the student body with an awareness that they had just been affirmed in a way that was not common.

Panama Jackson [00:31:48] This is this is it’s like the fashion and all of that is part of it. But this is genuinely a documentary, right? Like I’m looking at Dean Carter, who I haven’t seen in forever, and I just remember him telling me to pull my pants up when I was walking into King Chapel, you know, in the late nineties and, you know, seeing Goodgame. Who was there when I was there, too, you know, like people who I just saw at homecoming recently. As a matter of fact, you know, I’m looking at these people who still there are several people that I know that were in the in like as part of the photo shoot. But in the documentary, like, I’m just like I’m amazed at how how expansive this this promotion. I don’t know if you would call it a prom I mean, it’s a promo tool, but like you said its 360, this is a completely you can just submit that to a film festival as a discussion about like HBCUs and culture and Morehouse and Spelman and like your history helping predict your future and all that kind of stuff. I mean, I learn things. I didn’t even realize what I didn’t notice. Nobody was smiling in the pictures until, you know, Dean Carter starts talking about why people didn’t smile in the pictures. I’m like, man, I didn’t even think about that. Or the visuals of Spelman, like, like you said, the white dresses and the black pumps. And so I just it’s a it’s fascinating. Was that on the board from the beginning, or was that something that came to you all? Like, Man, we this is something we’ve got to add to this or this is part of the you know what? This is the one time we can do anything we want to do, guys. Let’s go for it. Like they let’s just. Let’s just shoot the moon here and let’s just see what we can do. Like how? Like, James, how did that part come to be?

James Jeter [00:33:23] Yeah. So from the very beginning, the film was, I think, a very important part of the, you know, holistic kind of roll out, if you will. I mean, I think, again, to your point, it was definitely less about a promotional I mean, as you know, it far exceeded anything that can promote clothing. And it was less about the clothing itself. I think even within the film, Ralph Lauren as a brand sort of took a backseat. And, you know, it was really about being at the schools. It was about the stories of the individuals in the film. And it was really about history and kind of the importance of HBCUs and, you know, that kind of integrity and ethical kind of sensibility that we all gain while we’re there. But you know, the film actually the first conversation I had about the film was with Dr. David Rice. David Wall Rice who was actually the person that was behind the camera, sort of asking the questions to the interviewees and, you know, over covid. You know, I had been following Dr. Rice, you know, what, you know, on YouTube with his Crown Forum conversations, which sort of just got me through in a really amazing way, because I think, like all of us, there was this disorientation that came about in 2020. And I just needed to go home to kind of get fed the things that Morehouse fed me. And so, you know, Crown Forum was definitely a place where a lot of those really amazing conversations occurred. And so I called Dr. Rice. I actually didn’t take him while I was at Morehouse. He wasn’t one of my professors, but he’s such a brilliant person. And so we started talking about, you know. You know, would you? You know, we’re working on this project. Would you be open to engaging in conversations with faculty, students and alumni of Morehouse and Spelman? This is kind of what we’re trying to get at and trying to nudge toward. And I think you’ll be a really brilliant person to kind of help frame out this conversation. And then from there, you know, we worked very closely with a great colleague of ours, Joshua Renfroe, who, you know, sort of helped to direct the movie. He went to Tuskegee University, which, you know, again, another part that was so beautiful about this is all the folks kind of behind and in front of the camera were people from this community and from the culture. And so it was really amazing being able to have internal talent to help kind of break out the film, the yearbook, the physical yearbook that we created, and of course, the collection itself. But the film was so important, again, because we didn’t want there to just be images out in the world without folks like Dean Carter being able to unpack, to your point why they’re not smiling in these images or, you know, the brilliant presidents of the colleges and the brilliant president of Spelman, you know, kind of unpacking what the white dress ceremony or the white attire ceremony means or, you know, why why is why our HBCUs even important? Because after enslaved Africans were set free. No one had thought about how they were going to be educated. And so it was just a really beautiful journey. And again, I think we all learned a lot even while we were in that room as as the professors, alumni and students spoke. It was a really, really emotional, profoundly emotional experience. There were moments where folks were crying that we edited out of the actual film, but just the level of. Just the it felt like there was a level of sort of ancestors in that space at that point that was just really special.

Dara Douglas [00:37:13] The film was on the list to begin with. So when honestly, again, this is like a concept out of James’s mind and his creativity. So he was like, We have to have this film to help ground it and to help explain the collection and as an education tool. So the film, the yearbook and then the actual collection itself. So these were themes that we kept pointing back to because we understood too that just still image. It does have a life, but how do you contextualize it? So the film helped to ground those really like subtle conversations about politeness, politics and dress. And we were like, okay, you know, would we be seen as if we create this collection? Would it be seen that Ralph Lauren was telling black people that the only way to advance would be to wear a suit? So we needed to have that conversation around. It’s more than that. It’s more than that. And it’s not about telling people how they have to behave or or telling people how they have to dress or directing people’s identity. This was an opportunity for us to talk about identity, an opportunity for us to talk about self-determination. So we knew we needed those experts to help ground the collection because if not, it would seem like there would be this part of it that would be up in the air.

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Panama Jackson [00:38:48] So I can’t talk about how amazing this project was without talking about on the release. There was some criticism of it. I got to ask because I’m curious about. Soon as it drops. Soon as this thing drops. And I knew it was coming. I knew it was coming as soon as it happens. Because, of course. People are like, yo, how in the world does Polo, Ralph Lauren get so much access to Morehouse and Spelman when the homies down the block trying to sell shirts and can’t get the license for the whatever, you know, all that kind of stuff like that. These are the conversations that were permeating social media, right? They were it was all over the place as excited as people were. There were some people like and I don’t know how else to say this, but I’m just gonna say like, oh, the, the, the white man’s ice is wetter or the white man’s water is wetter kind of thing. Like we that happened. But. When I saw the collection, I’m looking at them like, Yo, I don’t know if anybody else could have done this particular thing or like this was a very specific niche thing that was done that just so happens to appeal to everybody who went to Morehouse and Spelman specifically. And if you’re just really into that type of like if you got a Gatsby party to go to, like all that other stuff that works perfectly for it, you know, like that look was so specific, but I can’t imagine you all were were isolated from that criticism or didn’t see it. I mean, you probably had it in your own group text or people maybe you tried to like stay out of it, whatever, when the homies were talking. But I can imagine it was there like what was it also like to hear some of that criticism which, you know, I understand where it comes from. I was part of those conversations, but once I saw the for the full collection and what was actually achieved, I’m like, I don’t know if this criticism plays because of what was created here. Like, this is not something that could have been done, in my opinion, any, anywhere, anywhere else or without the tremendous resources and access to. So, I mean, listen, everybody, I was trying to figure out where in the world y’all got that yearbook. So when you say a good game had that yearbook and showed it to y’all as you know for the a row folks and stuff like that because I ain’t never seen that yearbook. I never thought of I’ve never seen that thing before. So that’s the special one. He let y’all hold that thing for videos and stuff like that. I mean, so what was that part of it like too? And, and I mean that, in, in and I’m asking about the criticism in terms of me also being somebody who realized this just could not happen any other way other than the way that it did was released and executed because it was so well done. So Dara, let’s start with you.

Dara Douglas [00:41:18] So I am kind of analog and I’m not really I know this is crazy. I’m not tremendously on social media and like really clued into that. I did read some of the criticisms, but I try to kind of stay away from it because a lot of well, some of the criticisms, people hadn’t had an opportunity to watch the film. So some of the questions that they had were really clarified in the film. And I knew that I couldn’t be the one to clap back in the comments essentially, and be like, Go watch the film, you know? And I had like really close friends who were like, Dara, write something, say something back to them and I was like, No, absolutely not. Like, I’m absolutely not going to do that, you know? So they honestly, some of my friends will write on my behalf and without me asking and they’d say, you know, did you watch the film? Did you get an opportunity to watch the film? Have you delved more into the film, understanding the background? And then even they would say, you know, you know, Daria, you’ve known her for years. Why would you think that this would be something that she would sell out? Spelman She loves Spelman so much. Why was she sell out Spelman? Why would she do that? You know her character, you know who she is. You’ve known her personally for 20 years. Why would you ever think that she would do something that would that would bring dishonor or disharm to her beloved institution? So there was a lot of that. So I’m grateful for my close friends to be able to, you know, have that conversation. And then I, you know, honestly hope that people would just go back and reread some of the articles and even our interview in The Washington Post, because I feel like a lot of it was cleared up there with Robin Givhan, you know, in terms of where exactly we were coming from. So it’s just and that goes back to people doing their due diligence in terms of research overall. And I think that that kind of happens in social media people don’t delve into finding more. They see an image in and they just completely run with it, you know, and I think it’s it’s important for all of us to understand and to educate ourselves. And again, back to the film, that’s essentially what it was it’s grounded in seek out education, seek a way to like gain more access to expand your life. So it was kind of like cyclical in that way. But yeah, I just avoided the negative comments. But understanding that they’re important because being able to have a discourse, it means that the collection itself struck a chord and us to have that conversation about, well, why this? Why Ralph Lauren? Why now, you know, and why you know, Spelman and Morehouse, all these questions, I think they’re they’re important. And I would never want anybody to feel like they need to be silenced and not ask those questions. But yeah, to your point, you know, Collegiate is one of our strongest brand codes and we’re known for our collegiate style. You know, when you think of you think of a tweed blazer you like I, I think I need a tweed blazer. I mean, who comes to mind? I need a oxford shirt. Who comes to mind? So the the part of the reason that the collection showed up so strongly again was because we were able to tap into our understanding of collegiate style, which is grounded in actual history of collegiate style.

Panama Jackson [00:44:36] Two things on that before you answer, James. One, your friends do come to your defense. We since we since our time in the AUC at spellhouse overlap. I know we know so many of the same people and not that I was even the one critical, but I when I said I wrote an article, a post that there was hundreds and hundreds of comments, people was coming up, it was like, Oh, okay, so this is how we’re playing. It was it was amazing. And two something you just said, I don’t even actually like you’re right. Like when I think of you think of a polo shirt. I don’t actually know if that specific style of shirt is actually just called the polo shirt or we just call it a polo shirt because we’re so used to polo being the ones that make us. We call all of that stuff polo shirts. Hmm. Interesting. It’s kind of like Google or Xerox, right? Like you want somebody to go search for somethin, you just tell em to go Google it. You don’t actually necessarily mean go use Google. You use it whatever you want to just go me and do it. Interesting.

Dara Douglas [00:45:27] Yeah and Kleenex. So, yeah, it’s synonymous. So the shirt and the brand are synonymous.

Panama Jackson [00:45:33] Absolutely. All right, James, what about you?

James Jeter [00:45:36] Yeah, well, you know, I saw a lot of it. And I think that the criticism is critical. Like, I think it’s it’s probably one of the most important parts of the dialog because, you know, if we had released this and it was just, oh, this collection was lovely, maybe we didn’t like push it enough, maybe we didn’t maybe it wasn’t, you know, as well rounded as it could have been. And so I think the criticism is important. I think for folks to be asking those questions is important. I think to your specific question around access and the difference between big brands versus, you know, maybe local brands or smaller brands from the actual community. I think both are important. I think it’s important for there to be representation at a brand like Ralph Lauren because at the end of the day, our shareholders and our stakeholders include us. And as a large corporation, we have a responsibility to our shareholders and our stakeholders and the communities that we operate in to to tell those stories as well. And so there has to be folks from our community in these positions in order to illuminate those stories. As much as it is important for we support black colleges to exist and for them to do great collaborations with the NBA and All Star. And, you know, another from other guys from Morehouse Eastside Golf who just did a great collaboration with Jordan brand Right. I think it’s all very important and I don’t think one has to exist and the other one doesn’t I think the mix of this diversity and the diversification of leaders, whether it be through entrepreneurship or whether it be through corporations, is essential. The last thing I would say is, you know, I think that was part of the the the criticism. I think the other big part of criticism that I that I saw was around the era. And I heard a lot of folks saying, oh, it’s giving Jim Crow and Morehouse and Spelman and all HBCUs for that matter. What we learned about the twenties, thirties and forties was not only centered around the civil rights movement, but it was also centered around black excellence. And it’s important to understand that without those individuals from these eras, we wouldn’t be sitting here having this conversation right now, nor would this collection exist. And again, Ralph Lauren is a brand. A lot of our kind of design codes are centered around the twenties, the thirties, the forties, the fifties from a design perspective. And I think the biggest unlock was aligning our design and brand codes back to our community to say that HBCU’s shouldn’t be sort of other and compartmentalize into this box, but is really an essential part of the American fabric, like black culture is American culture. And so, you know, kind of approaching it in the way that we approached it was to to to show how seamless the two are. You know, they one doesn’t sort of exist without the other. And then again, also just paying homage to the folks that came before us and to just show again in the twenties and thirties, Duke Ellington and others. And a lot of the style icons of that era were people from our community. So we just really wanted to celebrate them.

Panama Jackson [00:49:08] Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, I think I probably saw a little bit of the Jim Crow stuff, but I was just like, it’s a period piece. I mean, I like it. Literally everything from this collection 100% looks like it came straight from the exact same the same era across the board. So like if I had seen some pieces that look like, you know, they belonged on somebody in the 2000s and then everything else, then I think I would have been like, that’s kind of curious. But otherwise, I mean, again, I thought it was executed perfectly. It looked. I don’t know. Good job. Good job. All right. We’re going to take one last break here. We’re going to come back with my favorite segments of of this podcast, where we do some black fessions and black medations here on Dear Culture. You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified.

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Panama Jackson [00:50:24] Alright we’re back here on Dear Culture Still with Dara Douglas and James Jeter The Minds Behind the Morehouse College, Spelman College, Ralph Lauren Collection. The amazing thing that I spent too much money on that I would love to spend more money on, if possible. But I mean, what’s next for you all? I mean, are we going to get some more? The new school what’s going. What can you tell us about when the homies who might want to know can get up back up on this game that’s all put out into the universe. Is is is more coming.

Dara Douglas [00:50:58] Yes, there is a partial restock that is going to be dropping November 15th so students can actually purchase items in both Spelman’s Bookstore and Morehouse’s Bookstore and then online. So R0 the Ralph Lauren dot com so keep a lookout but it will be there. There’s some things that have already been restocked, but then there’ll be additional items.

Panama Jackson [00:51:27] Now that’s like the biggest new that’s like the biggest Christmas news of all time for the Morehouse Spelman community. Because I know for a fact I have one friend, no lie, probably twice a week. Re like like reloads the page just to see just to see, if anything, the things that he was looking for are restocked. Well, what else is next? I mean, like like this this was a this is a tremendous undertaking. Like like I am I’m proud of you all. I am impressed by you all. Like, clearly you all are able, you know, as individuals, as a collective, to put together anything that is is compelling. Like that’s how I feel. But what’s next either individually? Like, if you can say anything anyway, you might just be like, I can’t really talk about that. So, you know, it is what it is, but what’s next? Dara what’s next?

Dara Douglas [00:52:16] So, you know, the the new department, the design and content department, we’re essentially, as I mentioned before, we’re expanding how we readdress or re-imagine or address our brand codes, understanding that the American landscape is expansive. So we’re hoping to tell those stories from, you know, specific American perspectives. So I can’t go into a tremendous amount of detail, but we have an artist in residence program and so just, you know, keep a lookout in that way. But this essentially was just the beginning of how we tell stories. This is just one of the amazing American stories. And there’s so many more to tell.

Panama Jackson [00:52:59] Well, if that’s just the beginning, I am excited to see where it’s going from there. James, what about you, brother?

James Jeter [00:53:04] Yeah. No. Again, I think just to piggyback off of what Dara said, you know, the ultimate goal is really to integrate this type of thinking, these type of stories into our brand DNA and not to kind of other it or put it into a special projects kind of container before to, you know, kind of be an integral part to the fabric of our brand. And so I think this sort of showed us how to do it. And I think, again, we can continue to improve and bring in new stories it’s not just about collegiate stories within the black community or even just the black community specifically. You know, we’re such a diverse company, such a diverse country, and even more of a diverse world. And so I’m just really excited to continue telling stories, continue finding folks who have really beautiful stories to share. And, you know, Ralph Lauren as a company and as a as a person using this platform to share those stories.

Panama Jackson [00:54:11] Absolutely. And to piggyback on what you just said, I mean, one of the segments that we do here at Dear Culture is a black fession, which is our opportunity to talk about how non monolithic we are as a people. It’s one of our favorite sayings, black people are not a monolith. Well, here’s how we always prove it. So at dear culture, we ask our guests to come up with a black fession, which is a confession, something people would be surprised to find out about you and your blackness. Lots of people haven’t seen movies. We had one. I always like to come back to this and we’re going to have to rerun this episode at some point because one of our hosts here likes to put ketchup in her grits. And it just really sent me in a way that I wasn’t prepared for as a Southerner. It was brand new for me, but it also might have ruined my day. So Ima ask you both if you have one. If you have one that you can share with us, if you have a black fession. James, let’s start with you. Do you have a black fession?

James Jeter [00:55:05] Absolutely. I think one of the biggest ones that most folks are extremely surprised by is that I actually grew up Buddhist. And when you think about black culture and black folks, that’s probably one of the last things that you think about. And so, you know, on that spectrum of black people not being a monolith, I think that probably fairs somewhere somewhere high on that on that scale.

Panama Jackson [00:55:31] I think nailed it is the only appropriate term for that one right there. Dara, what about you?

Dara Douglas [00:55:40] So my favorite film genre is actually musicals. So my favorite film is Singin in the Rain, featuring Gene Kelly.

Dr. Lawrence Edward [00:55:54] I’m singin in the rain. Just singin in the rain.

Dara Douglas [00:55:59] So, yeah.

Panama Jackson [00:56:01] Interesting. Okay. All right. I grew up watching Annie nonstop. For some reason. In my household, Annie was a movie we watched every single day. I grew up a military brat, so we were living in Germany, and we didn’t really we didn’t have a bunch of channels. So all we did was watch VHS tapes. So for years Annie might have been my favorite movie just because that’s all I had to watch and I know all the songs by heart. Okay. All right. Well, from our now monolithic ness, we also have this segment we do called Black Medation, where we ask our guests to recommend something by, for and about. Black culture can be something you’re working on, something that you’re a part of reading what ever anything that you have that you feel is worth people knowing about. So Dara, let’s start with you. Do you have a black medation.

Dara Douglas [00:56:45]  I do. I listen to therapy for Black Girls podcast and I feel like they really like hone in on kind of specific issues for not just black women but black culture. And I love it. So it’s like my Sunday night thing that I do as I go to bed.

Panama Jackson [00:57:07] All right, James, what about you?

James Jeter [00:57:11] I think one of the most important things that we can do while we’re on this on this sojourn is travel. And so I would recommend traveling to West Africa, specifically Senegal or Ghana and Nigeria and, you know, kind of embracing and internalizing maybe a culture that you aren’t sort of familiar with and just spending some time in those spaces. And I think that can just completely illuminate our lives. And also, I think just show how how similar we all are, but also to to kind of love and, you know, celebrate our differences as well.

Panama Jackson [00:57:55] Fair enough. I like that. My wife is from Ghana, so we went back to Ghana for the year of the return transformative experience. It was an amazing my first it was my first time being on the continent, but also to go with the perspective of my wife who’s at home, right, showing me like her youth. And all of a sudden it was an it was an amazing an amazing experience. I’m 100%. All right. Look, thank you all for being here. This was awesome. This is I appreciate you being here as as people who have impacted culture and specifically at Spelman and Morehouse. But I think kind of showing people what’s possible with storytelling through fashion and like you all literally have have apexed like where I’m a big believer in doors being opened that I didn’t know existed in the first place. And I really feel like that’s something that you all managed to do with both the collection, but also the film, like everything about it was genuinely like enlightening, I think, for our communities. So please, if you can tell people where they can keep up with what you got going on if you want to be found on social media or not, but where they can continue to find out what you all have going on. Dara, let’s start with you.

Dara Douglas [00:59:07] So I’m not huge on social media, but my Instagram is real Dara Douglas. So that’s it. So that’s basically I’m like knee deep, neck deep into work and what we’re working on next. So unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to like work on my own projects, but work doesn’t feel like work, so it is like a special project for me. So that’s where you can find me.

Panama Jackson [00:59:37] All right.

James Jeter [00:59:37] James Yeah. My my social media is James M as in Marsalis, my parents named me after Wynton Marsalis. James M Jeter. And yeah, I mean, and also I think if folks have haven’t seen the film for for this project, I would definitely recommend checking that out. It’s on YouTube. It’s also on our website. And if you Google, you know, Ralph Lauren, HBCU Ralph Lauren, Morehouse and Spelman, the film should pop up. So definitely, definitely recommend everyone out there. You know, go watch that.

Dara Douglas [01:00:14] Have your tissue handy when you watch the film. Yeah.

Panama Jackson [01:00:17] Yeah, it was. Yeah. I mean, I can’t say enough. Like I jokingly mentioned, you also submit that to film festivals, but I actually think that’s not that’s not crazy because I really do think. It’s I can’t say this doesn’t happen often where I think an execution seems fully realized and executed. But that was genuinely it was moving like I watched the whole thing. I literally watched the whole thing from start to finish. And I don’t really watch everything all the way through, like, but I’m like, you know, let me see exactly because I’m but I know it’s personal, but it was just compelling in a way that I think like art that features blackness is compelling in the way that I think everybody could gain something from taking a look at this. It wasn’t so yeah, it was great. And you’re right. So, you know, kudos to you all for that. Thank you all for being here. I appreciate it. Dear Culture is a podcast on an original podcast from the Grio Black Podcast Network. For more original content, check us out at the Grio Black Podcast Network and please email any suggestions, scams, pyramid schemes, anything you have to podcasts at theGrio.com. The producer is Sasha Armstrong and our managing editor is Regina Griffin. Thank you all for listening. Thank you. Dara Thank you, James, for being here. I am Panama Jackson, your host. Have a black one.