American fashion brand Polo Ralph Lauren launched a new capsule inspired by two prestigious and historic Black colleges. The release was unprecedented as thousands of alumni, students and supporters flooded the website for pre-orders and lined up outside stores to purchase the limited-edition apparel.
Weeks after the announcement was made public, Spelman College and Morehouse College sent graduates from their schools a pre-sale link for an early chance at buying something from the collection, but within a half-hour, online shoppers were stuck with empty baskets, prompting an early- morning dash to the brick-and-mortar Ralph Lauren stores in major markets such as New York, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and Los Angeles.
The brand reportedly underestimated the popularity of the collection and the spending power of the Spelhouse family.
Adria Jones, C ’95, arrived before opening at the Washington D.C., store on Tuesday, March 29, the day the collection dropped, only to find a line down the street.
“People showed up like it was a sneaker release at 5:30 in the morning,” she said. “And it’s cold out here.”
She added, “A Spelmanite was the first person in line and said that there were only like 15 things and no jackets left.”
Jones, who is married to a Morehouse man and has a brother who also attended the school, said all kinds of confusion swirled around the release, including rumors that some people received the link for pre-sales before the week of sales and that one school received the link earlier than the other.
But officials say those were rumors started by students and alum frustrated because the stock went so fast.
Jones decided to leave to make another appointment. “I chalked it up to frozen fingers and brain.”
Social media became congested with experiences from students and alum.
“Is the #Spelman / #Morehouse@RalphLaurencollection already sold out?! I didn’t even get a chance to properly peruse and purchase. Damn! I was gonna get that Polo coat, one of them varsity sweaters and definitely one of the dresses. But I love it though. #BlackPride”
“Man im really tight all the Morehouse & Spelman Ralph Lauren drop sold out.”
“Ralph Lauren really sold out of all that Morehouse clothing….I couldn’t get a damn thing”
A spokesperson from the company spoke to Atlanta Black Star and confirmed via email the capsule is sold out, saying the response to the collection not only showed a “strong interest from our customers” but demonstrated “the enduring legacy and traditions of HBCUs.”
The rep wrote, “[The capsule] sold out online during presale, and later sold out in stores yesterday,” referencing the release date of March 29.
Priced between $127 and $4000, many were curious about where the proceeds of the sales would go.
However, the rep said the schools and the brand are engaged in a “robust, multi-pronged partnership” that extends “beyond the collection.”
“Pertaining to our commercial relationship for the collection,” Ralph Lauren’s person states, “We have engaged in a standard collegiate apparel licensing agreement operated through the CLC (Collegiate Licensing Company) – the largest and oldest collegiate licensing company in the United States. The specific terms of our agreement are confidential.”
A Morehouse alumnus, James Jeter, a 2003 graduate who works as the director of concept design & special projects for Ralph Lauren, conceptualized and designed the capsule with 2013 Spelman graduate Dara Douglas, director of inspirational content for Ralph Lauren. Both AUC grads wanted to inspire the mainstream world with the culture that shaped them into the business creatives they are. Ralph Lauren bought into their vision.
“When the idea to create a collection and campaign inspired by HBCUs was presented by alumni within the company, we wanted to do so with authenticity in mind,” the spokesperson said.
“Through connection with Morehouse & Spelman, we found that their heritage and values closely resembled our own, including a profound sense of community; dreams, and pursuits of excellence; a commitment to inspiring and enacting meaningful social change; a devotion to the compassion for and service of others; and of course, a deep legacy of timeless dressing and sartorial traditions.”
Jasmine Gurley, director of Public Relations and Communications at Morehouse College, said in a statement it was important to note how “HBCUs are iconic American institutions that have been providing access to ‘the American dream,’ emblematic to the Ralph Lauren brand, for over 100 years.”
She pointed out that the initiative is bigger than the clothes. “Our hope at Morehouse is that this partnership opens the eyes of corporations across the globe to see what is possible when creating an authentic partnership with Black institutions.”
She added, “It is about the conversations we’ve started and our impactful stories being told on a global stage. The proof is in our alumni – like Morehouse’s James Jeter and Spelman’s Dara Douglas, both creatives at Ralph Lauren who brought this idea to life.”
Spelman president Dr. Mary Schmidt Campbell shared in a note to the alumni that while the capsule was basically gone before it arrived, the “collaboration” afforded the school yet another “opportunity to support student success.”
She continued, “From scholarships to our students being involved in the branding campaign, to a business relationship that yielded earned income, our partnership with Ralph Lauren represents the type of commitment from American business that helps the College continue to remain accessible for students across the country.”
In addition to pulling from Spelman and Morehouse archives and creating classic pieces that fit into the aesthetic of the brand, the company worked with the schools to create, “A Portrait of the American Dream,” a 27-mini documentary about Spelhouse narrated by the brand’s creator Ralph Lauren.
This initiative with Spelman and Morehouse is just the start of the fashion giant’s commitment to racial equity. In December 2021, the Ralph Lauren Corporate Foundation pledged $2 million to support scholarships for students at Morehouse College, Spelman College and 10 additional HBCUs through the United Negro College Fund.
Besides revenue earned from the collection and the scholarships with UNCF, students interested in fashion will have an opportunity to work at the brand in various capacities.
“We’re also working with HBCUs across the country – including Morehouse and Spelman – to create career pathways in all facets of our Company and industry,” the statement said.
“Through greater representation and more equal opportunity, our hope is that collections that spotlight Black experiences and fill the gaps in our industry history will be naturally woven into the broader product collections and campaigns we create.”