AXA Scholarship Recipient, Phumie Kunene, Now One Step Closer to Her Fashion Dream

Dress for Success Worldwide has partnered for the eighth year in a row with AXA for the “Pursuit Beyond the Suit” scholarship program. Since 2009, AXA has helped Dress for Success empower women on the road to success with their national educational scholarship. This Fall, AXA will fund $30,000 worth of scholarships to five new Dress for Success clients. But first, we wanted to take a look back at our 2016 winners and celebrate their educational success this year!
We checked in with 2016 AXA Scholarship recipient and fashion designer, Phumie Kunene, to hear about the steps she’s taken in her education and career since receiving the scholarship last year.

DFS: How has the AXA Scholarship Award been able to financially assist you with continuing your education? Would you have been able to continue your studies without the scholarship?

PK: First, I would like to take this opportunity to thank AXA for allowing me to share my experience about receiving this scholarship. This scholarship came at the perfect time- I began my second year of studies and it has provided me a sense a relief. [After receiving this scholarship] I’ve had fewer concerns about my financial burdens as I [continue to] pursue my degree in Fashion Merchandising and Management at Berkeley College. I have been able to focus on my studies, which are directly related to my career as a fashion designer and owner of my own business. Receiving the AXA Scholarship has minimized my concern of completing my studies with the reality of a high student loan.

(Faith Frank, President of AXA and Angela Williams, Dress for Success Chief Programs Officer awarding Phumie with an AXA Scholarship at the Women in Business Making Change Breakfast)

DFS: Have you or are you in the process of reaching your educational goals?

PK: When I applied for the scholarship I was just finishing up my first year [at Berkeley] and was getting ready to take on the second leg of my academic studies. Through my studies, I have gained a better understanding of the business side of the fashion industry. The classroom projects and the feedback from my professors have made me more aware of every detail that goes into creating a cohesive collection and building a business. Therefore, it is safe to say that I have managed to balance my work, career and academic goals while still maintaining Dean’s list grades. I am excited to say that I am currently on the right track towards achieving my academic goals and completing my [Bachelors] degree in Spring of 2018.

DFS: Is there a personal story or something you learned during your semester that was new and you were able to apply towards your career goals?

PK: The Fashion Merchandising degree has no doubt [equipped] me with numerous merchandising tools, by utilizing my classroom knowledge to create a five piece capsule collection- my Spring/Summer line that was launched in February during a private fashion showcase in Manhattan. During my semester, I also learned how to write a press release to promote my events and new collections. This is a huge milestone and accomplishment for my business. Secondly, I researched all the fabrics and colors for my collection. I finalized four fabrics and five styles by applying the concepts of planning I gained in my Trend Analysis and Product Development course. These principles not only helped me to perform style and color forecasts, but also enhanced my ability to work out the relevant cost sheets and apply the accurate mark ups and mark downs during the past holiday season for each product I sold online. I have also gained experience with creating spreadsheets and other materials that are important in communicating my needs effectively [with production], especially the factory and grading specialists within the industry.

Phumie Kunene is a fashion designer, entrepreneur and Dress for Success Ambassador. Phumie founded BlackPhumelele Designs, a ready to wear women’s apparel company, specializing in the production of small assortments of unique, chic and exclusive day and cocktail dresses, capes and trendy leather and canvas tote bags, available at and at The Meat Market Shop in Brooklyn. Her dresses and capes are made in New York City using high quality fabric, such as silk, cotton and poly-rayon. Her mission is to create ethical and sustainable fashion.

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