A digital parade of five Italian fashion designers of African descent opens Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday, a tangible result of a campaign launched last summer by the only black Italian designer belonging to the Milan Fashion Chamber.
After initial resistance and a slow start, designer Stella Jean credits Italy’s National Fashion Chamber with ‘a lot of goodwill’ in pushing through enhanced collaboration with five young designers, including funding and supplier partnerships Italians.
“When you want to do something, you can do it immediately,” said Jean, one of the founders of the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion campaign. “I have worked hard to overcome this gradualism that is part of the mentality of a certain part of the Italian fashion world.”
She kicked off the campaign with designer Edward Buchanan and Afro Fashion Week Milano founder Michelle Ngomo after fashion houses expressed solidarity with the Black Lives Matters movement on Instagram, demanding they put action behind their promises. on social networks.
Jean, who got her break when Giorgio Armani invited her to perform in his theater in 2014, said it was important to focus on Italians of African descent to fight one of the first obstacles the campaign encountered: claims that there were no black designers. in Italy.
The collaboration with the Italian Fashion Council will continue in September, when five new designers from Italian minority communities will be presented during Fashion Week.
And Jean is also creating an event featuring African designers and artisans, with the aim of creating partnerships between Italian fashion houses who can learn sustainable production methods in exchange for training in the global fashion system. .
“You talk about sustainability ad nauseam here, and what I’m seeing is anything but sustainable, trust me. In the countries where I work, people 99% work sustainably, out of necessity, restriction or desire, ”said Jean.
Jean also works on a database of African craft techniques, fabrics, patterns and other cultural references. The Italian-Haitian creator sees this decision as a bulwark against cultural appropriation that does not economically benefit Africans and as a means of preventing racist blunders.
Valerie Steele, museum director at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said many of Jean’s ideas could be replicated in the United States and elsewhere.
Steele, who has some of Jean’s designs in the collection, recorded a conversation with the Italian designer for Black History Month, which airs Thursday on FIT’s YouTube channel to highlight Jean’s role in the revolution. of Italian fashion.
Steele said black designers are also under-represented in the United States, despite the role black culture has played in inspiring fashion there.
“When a few years ago we did an exhibition on black fashion designers, which was an international show that Stella was on, we were very shocked to find that on Vogue.com something ridiculous, like 1 % of the creators presented were black. ”Steele said.
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