September 23, 2022
While working as a tailor to gain more experience in the fashion industry, Drake Dabbs said he needed to look for other sources of income. Although he has not had much success with scholarships in the past, he decided to apply for a scholarship that was due in just two days and worked diligently to meet the deadline. Within months, he received an email informing him of his position as a semi-finalist for the scholarship, which gave him hope for the future.
As one of 372 applicants, Dabbs recently won a $25,000 scholarship from a prestigious organization called the Council of Fashion Designers of America Inc. Dabbs’ scholarship is the first UT student to receive such an honor, making it the highest honor bestowed on a textile company and apparel student, UT Professor of Instruction, Eve Nicols, said.
“Knowing that my work will finally be seen in this sea of fashion students,” Dabbs said. “A lot of students come from these big fashion schools. I’m here at UT, a black student at DeSoto High School in a small town in Dallas, and I’ve been seen out of a sea of people. That’s when I knew it was real.”
Dabbs said he believes his work in the textile and apparel program, or TXA program — as well as his experience in both tailoring and shoemaking — played a crucial role in securing the scholarship. Despite the lack of representation that came with entering a white-dominated industry and was frequently one of the few black students on his TXA courses, he said his hard work led him to his success, and other black men in TXA could 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 exactly what people learn in these schools and you can beat them in a massive scholarship. That alone was a 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 that scholarship and beat all the endorsements.”
After years in TXA and numerous jobs in the fashion industry, Dabbs finally saw the fruits of his labor. Nicols, one of Dabbs’ mentors, said Dabbs fully deserved this selective scholarship.
“Many sit back and wait. … Drake is different,” said Nicols. “He decides he wants to do something and looks for how to do it. That kind of enthusiasm is contagious.”
Gail Chovan, a UT assistant professor of teaching and another of Dabbs’ mentores, said receiving this grant is no small feat considering the award typically goes to students in larger cities like Los Angeles and New York. She said she hopes Dabbs will use CFDA funds to grow his career.
“It’s a big deal because most of the scholarships go to students from backgrounds that are considered to be much more fashion forward or fashion forward,” Chovan said. “Having someone from Texas who went to UT who went up against a really talented pool of candidates said something about Drake.”
Dabbs’ broader goals in fashion, he said, are aimed at promoting alternatives to fast fashion, raising awareness of product manufacturing and bringing more exposure to Black creators in the industry.
“While black people represent some of the highest consumers of luxury goods in fashion and automobiles, they only represent (4%) fashion design (jobs),” Dabbs said. “Black people (who) consume a lot of fashion don’t see the benefit. My goal is to let us see the means of production and let our consumption flow back into our communities. Because I work as a seamstress and shoemaker and because the (US) fashion industry is so huge, I will do everything I can to funnel this money back into the black communities.”