MILAN — “We wanted to convey a cultural message, that Made in Italy is not only about white creatives, and debunk this prejudice,” designer Stella Jean told WWD after the “We Are Made in Italy” digital event livestreamed on Italy’s Camera della Moda web site Sunday evening.
Spearheaded by the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion Collective with the support of Italy’s fashion governing body, the project highlighted the work of five Italian designers of color, mentored by Jean and Edward Buchanan.
“The Fab Five Bridge Builders” showed their spring 2021 collections as a unique collective of Black-owned Made in Italy businesses against the backdrop of the stately Palazzo Clerici.
However, rather than focusing specifically on clothing, the video delivered poignant speeches by each designer aimed at fueling the message of inclusivity and fighting the racial bias in fashion. “Made in Italy is not a color, I’m not a color,” Jean says in the video.
“The meeting of cultures is an irreversible choice,” echoes Cameroonian fashion creative Gisèle Claudia Ntsama, founder of Gisfab.
During the interview with WWD, Jean offered that “Italy has become a border country, characterized by a certain métissage of backgrounds and cultures and this has to be recognized in order to avoid that the [racist] mistakes of a few turn into a stigma for the entire country.”
Other talents included in the showcase were Moroccan designers Karim Daoudi; Nigeria-born Joy Meribe of Modaf Designs; Burundi-born Frida Kiza, and Senagalese Mokodu Fall. They were selected by Jean and Buchanan from among hundreds of submissions with the support of Afro Fashion Week in Milano founder Michelle Ngonmo.
Jean praised the support of Italy’s fashion chamber and its president Carlo Capasa, who over the past weeks proved its commitment to the cause, for example, by funding the realization of the video. She added that in a few weeks the CNMI will launch a section dedicated to the Collective on its web site.
“Sunday’s video marked the first step, but the real milestone and most important moment in Italy’s fashion happened on [Sept. 22] with a roundtable attended by the Camera’s board members and brands,” noted Jean. She referred to a meeting held ahead of fashion week during which the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion Collective presented its plans to foster inclusivity.
Dubbed “Cultural Fashion Reform,” the program covers six key initiatives:
• The launch of a database gathering POC creatives and artisans in Italy covering around 200 professions that brands can access to find fresh talents.
• A “Checks and Balances” initiative to monitor the presence of ethnic minorities within Italian fashion businesses. To this end, Jean said that even though “the number of Black people tapped for media-facing initiatives is growing, this should be reflected in the workforce at these companies otherwise it’s just tokenism, or worse, marketing-led exploitation.”
• A consulting committee to help companies avoid missteps of “insensitive conversations.”
• A pool of sociologists, anthropologists, embroiderers and other craftsmen to help brands pay homage to other cultures and tackle the cultural appropriation issues.
• A mentoring and scholarship program to grant POC talents access to fashion and design schools.
• A range of initiatives to back and fund such platforms as Afro Fashion.
“We have the great ambition to fully implement all these six points by February 2021,” Jean enthused. “It’s in the interests of Italy’s fashion system to change and improve,” she concluded.