September 23, 2022
While working as a tailor to get more experience in the fashion industry, Drake Dabbs said he found himself having to look for other sources of income. Despite not having much past success with scholarships, he decided to apply for a scholarship due in just two days , working vigorously to meet the deadline. In a few short months, he received an email notifying him of his semifinalist position for the scholarship, leaving him with hope for the future.
One of 372 applicants, Dabbs recently won a $25,000 scholarship from a prestigious organization known as the Council of Fashion Designers of America Inc. Dabbs’ scholarship marks the first UT student to receive such an honor, making it the highest level award presented to a textiles and apparel student, UT professor of instruction Eve Nicols said.
“To know my work is finally being seen in this sea of fashion students,” Dabbs said. “A lot of students are from these big fashion schools. I’m here at UT, (a) Black student out of DeSoto High School in a small town in Dallas, and I got seen out of the sea of people. That’s when I knew it was real.”
Dabbs said he feels his work in the textiles and apparel, or TXA, program — as well as his experience in both tailoring and bootmaking — played an instrumental role in securing the scholarship. Despite the lack of representation that came with entering a white-dominated industry and frequently being one of the few Black students in his TXA classes, he said his hard work led him to his success, and other Black men in TXA can use a strong work ethic to become prominent names in fashion.
“It doesn’t matter if you go to a super expensive art school — you can come to UT,” Dabbs said. “You can learn the exact same thing people in those schools are learning, and you can beat them in a massive scholarship . That alone was huge motivation for me, especially at UT where we’re only (about 5%) Black. I was the only Black person in my classes, and … I won this scholarship and beat out all the endorsements.”
After years in TXA and numerous jobs in the fashion industry, Dabbs finally reaped the rewards of his labor. Nicols, one of Dabbs’ mentors, said Dabbs completely deserved this selective scholarship.
“A lot of people sit back and wait. … Drake is different,” Nicols said. “He decides he wants to do something and seeks out how to do it. That kind of enthusiasm is infectious.”
Gail Chovan, a UT assistant professor of instruction and another mentor of Dabbs, said receiving this scholarship was no small feat, considering the award typically goes to students in bigger cities like Los Angeles and New York. She said she hopes Dabbs expands his career with the funds from the CFDA.
“It’s a big deal because the majority of the scholarships go to students based from an environment that is considered much more fashion savvy or fashion forward,” Chovan said. “To have someone that’s from Texas, that went to UT, that put themselves up against a really talented pool of candidates said something about Drake.”
Dabbs’ broader goals in fashion, he said, aim to encourage alternatives to fast fashion, raise awareness of product manufacturing and bring more attention to Black creators in the industry.
“Black people, while we make up some of the highest consumption of luxury goods in fashion and cars, only represent (4%) of fashion design (jobs),” Dabbs said. “Black people, (who) make a significant amount of fashion consumption, don’t see the benefit. My goal is to let us see the means of production and let our consumption go back into our communities. Since I work as a tailor and a bootmaker and since the (US) fashion industry is so huge, I will use whatever leverage I can to funnel that money back into Black communities.”