EXCLUSIVE: Fast Retailing Foundation Launches Scholarship Program

TOKYO — Fast Retailing has established a foundation with the purpose of creating “a more sustainable and inclusive society for all,” and one of its initial projects is a scholarship program for graduate students at some of the world’s top fashion schools.

For the school year beginning in September 2021, Fast Retailing Foundation will award scholarships to up to 10 students in selected master’s programs at the Fashion Institute of Technology, Parsons School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design and the Royal College of Art in London. The eligible degree programs include fashion, textiles, graphic design, fashion management and more.

“Mr. Yanai often says that businesses that don’t contribute to society won’t survive. He’s been saying it since long before the coronavirus pandemic,” said Yoshio Ishida, secretary general of Fast Retailing Foundation, in reference to Tadashi Yanai, the chairman, president and chief executive officer of Fast Retailing. “So we decided to think about what Fast Retailing should do as a company, and what Fast Retailing Foundation should do. [But] Mr. Yanai thinks that in order to change the world the most important thing is to have some leaders, which is what the two organizations have in common.”

While Fast Retailing has stepped up its efforts in sustainability and environmentalism in recent years, as well as making various donations to refugees, frontline health-care workers and more, the foundation’s initial activities will focus more on education and developing future leaders.

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The foundation for the scholarship program were laid with the Tomodachi-Uniqlo Fellowship, which provided financial support for Japanese students to study business or fashion at top U.S. graduate schools. But with the new program, Yanai felt it was important to make the scholarships available to students from anywhere in the world in order to find and nurture the best talent, Ishida said.

Students who want to apply for one of the scholarships will do so through their university. Each institution will then select up to two students to nominate for interviews with Fast Retailing Foundation. The final round of interviews will be with Yanai and creative director Kashiwa Sato.

Students who are awarded the scholarship will have all tuition, health insurance and mandatory fees for enrollment covered by the foundation for the length of the program in which they are enrolled full time. The total amount awarded to each student will be up to $132,000. The application process will begin in April 2021, with a final decision on the awardees to be made by the end of May.

While the initial round of scholarships will be awarded only to students from the four institutions mentioned above, Ishida said the foundation is also in talks with Central Saint Martins and the London College of Fashion. In addition, he said that the foundation is open to expanding the program to other schools and possibly awarding it to even more students per year in the future.

“Mr. Yanai’s feeling is that if the program is not for students from the best schools in the world, there is no point in doing it,” Ishida said. “But we need the support of the schools in order to select up to two of their students to nominate to us.”

The scholarships are not need-based and are open to all students who have been accepted to the applicable degree programs at each school.

In addition to the new graduate scholarship program, Fast Retailing Foundation will support the Asian University for Women (AUW) in Bangladesh by providing scholarships of $15,000 each to 25 students per year who are believed to be future leaders in the Asia region. These funds were previously provided to the university through Uniqlo, but the program has now been transferred to the foundation.

Other initial Fast Retailing Foundation activities will include providing educational assistance for refugee children in Japan, Japanese language classes for refugees, and assistance to children with hearing and visual impairments. The foundation was established in November 2018 and is entirely funded by Fast Retailing.

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