When actions follow good intentions, it’s always a positive step. Last season the Italian fashion system was under fire for its lack of inclusivity and diversity and its reluctance to acknowledge designers of color and give them equal opportunities of access to the industry. Designers Stella Jean and Sansovino’s Edward Buchanan, together with Afro Fashion Week Milan founder Michelle Francine Ngonmo, were the spokespersons who called on Italy’s Camera Nazionale della Moda to be held accountable and to confront the issue, providing effective solutions.
Five months have passed and the situation seems to have taken a turn for the better. The five BIPOC designers selected by Jean, Ngonmo, and Buchanan, who showcased their budding collections in September as part of the We Are Made in Italy initiative, have visibly progressed. Mentored by the indefatigable trio, with Camera della Moda lending support, the collective has been able to express its remarkable creativity, producing well-made and sellable capsule collections. Each of the five designers was given the opportunity to work with high-end Made in Italy manufacturers and suppliers, which provided fabrications and execution, from developing prototypes until the outfits’ final production.
On the phone from Rome, Stella Jean sounded upbeat: “With the WAMI initiative we have shown that BIPOC designers can be an effective force in Italian fashion,” she said. “We’re acting now on a very factual, practical level. A huge database is being organized, coordinated by Michelle Ngonmo, which will be available to the whole industry and to all the companies which really want to diversify their workforce at every production stage, from pattern makers to artisans to designers and creatives. We have listed more than 400 names. Another of our worries is cultural appropriation,” she continued. “If a designer wants to make a collection inspired by Africa, instead of plastering moodboards with images of Masai tribes and savanna landscapes, it would be much better if he worked with African artisans, communities, and ateliers of local makers who can help make honest, correct, unimpeachable choices. We have built a network across Africa of small production entities—why not work directly with them, distributing wealth and acquiring knowledge in the process?”
Jean said the connection with Made in Italy companies, which opened their factories and made archives and ateliers available to the five designers, has been crucial in making the initiative successful: “We couldn’t have made it without their support and generosity. Each designer has been paired with a company or supplier; in just five months and despite the awful COVID situation, their collections have seen the light of day,” she said. Carlo Capasa, CNMI President, is now a member of the WAMI group, whose board was recently expanded to include Black professionals, so the initiative can continue effectively in the future.