Black designers at Milan Fashion Week to 'destroy the prejudice that being Italian means being white'

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For the first time at Milan fashion week, a show dedicated to Black Italian designers was part of the official calendar in what organizers hope highlights the lack of diversity in the industry.

"It is very important for us to show the world that 'Made in Italy' does not correspond to a particular colour. We want to destroy the prejudice that being Italian means being white. Made in Italy has been represented around the world as being a white concept, now it is no longer like this. The new Italy is not this and does not want to be this," says Italian-Haitian designer Stella Jean.

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Stella is the Italian Fashion Council's only Black member and a fierce campaigner against racism in fashion. She organised the event alongside the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion Collective. 

The 'We are made in Italy' digital show was filmed in Milan's grand Palazzo Clerici and broadcast online. Showcasing the Spring/Summer 2021 collections of five selected designers of colour who previously struggled to get a foot in the door.

"It is really sad that all these Italian brands that enjoy worldwide attention and have a direct or indirect influence on billions of people around the world have not realised that in Italy an entire generation is asking for a voice and space, filling Italian squares from north to south Black Lives Matter demonstration," says Stella.

She is demanding the sector's governing body support Black designers and has called on Italian fashion houses to do more to confront racism. 

READ MORE: Black women in film: Chi Mhende talks to us about what representation means in the African context

Some have said that predominantly White Italy has shown a national blindness to insidious racism lurking under its skin.

"It's totally unfair that these people continue to remain invisible, the Italian brands pretend not to see them and give all their attention in a blatant way to the Black Lives Matter only outside of Italy, supporting the United States and all other countries but totally ignoring Italy. In Italy, we have a racial problem and if we don't start opening the wound in order to heal it, the wound will never heal," she adds.

Stella mentored the five designers featured in the show; Fabiola Manirakiza, originally from Burundi, Senegalese designer Mokodu Fall, Claudia Gisele Ntsama who grew up in a family of tailors in Cameroon, Karim Daoudi who was born in Morocco and Joy Meribe who grew up in Nigeria. 

Compiled by Phelokazi Mbude

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