Diversity & Inclusion: Milan Fashion Week Includes Designers of African Descent

With the demand for more inclusivity in every industry, and the popularity of the Black Lives Matter movement all over the world, talents who would have been made to take a back seat in their field or who would have found it particularly difficult to break through other acts to reach their audience, are now being noticed and given the platform to step into the limelight.

From beauty to fashion, entertainment and even politics, the demand for more diverse representation is beginning to bear fruits, thrusting into public domain talents that have been kept in hiding for too long by oppressive and racist systems. Milan Fashion Week is the latest example of this historic change.

We are made in Italy: african desigenrs make their debut at the Milan Fashion week 2020
Black talents are being pushed to the limelight courtesy of the Black Lives Matter movement. Image courtesy of Pexels

Debuting for the first time in the history of one of the world’s biggest fashion weeks was We Are Made in Italy, a collective of Italian designers of African origin put together by the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion. This significant event is as a result of Afro Fashion Week founder Michelle Ngomo and designers, Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan’s insistence that the Italian fashion showcase should be more inclusive. For the event, they shortlisted five Black designers to share their talent with the world on the Camera Nazionale Della Moda Italiana programme.

Introducing Claudia Gisèle Ntsama, Fabiola Manirakiza, Macodou Fall, Joy Ijeoma Meribe, and Karim Daoudi, who each presented their spring/summer 2021 collections via a digital showcase.

We are made in Italy: african desigenrs make their debut at the Milan Fashion week 2020
For the first time at Milan Fashion Week, designers of African descent were given the opportunity to showcase their designs.

That the event is on the official calendar is a watershed moment. “It’s time to put in action the multiculturalism that has been [merely] preached for too long,” says Jean. “It’s fundamental to give [these designers] a chance; now, their future lies in the hands of their own strength and talent and if the world confirms that they indeed have it they will submit only to a principle of meritocracy, not one of colour.” 

Fabiola Manirakiza, designer and founder of Frida Kiza

We are made in Italy: african desigenrs make their debut at the Milan Fashion week 2020
Frida Kiza, SS21. Image courtesy of Frida Kiza via Instagram

Fabiola Manirakiza’s brand, Frida Kiza, seeks to celebrate her homeland of Burundi and her home of Marche in central Italy, “unit[ing] these two worlds that are very different but the same”. Founded in 2016, Frida Kiza (a homage to Frida Kahlo and a shortening of her surname) represents all women, says Fabiola, with her current collection manifesting a loungewear lockdown experience into her signature vibrant palette. Passionate about supporting Italy, its manufacturing and its long-term legacy, “promoting Made in Italy and supporting young artists” is Manirakiza’s raison d’être. Already a favourite with the Italian A-list, her long-term goal is to take Frida Kiza global. “In five years’ time, I see the brand, and consequently me, all over the world.”

Macodou Fall, artist and founder of Mokodu

We are made in Italy: african desigenrs make their debut at the Milan Fashion week 2020
Image courtesy of Mokodu Fall via Instagram

Senegalese artist Macodou Fall made his creative debut as a cartoon artist as a child before moving into acting, film producing, and a career as a portrait artist, focusing on the figures of the African Renaissance (you may have checked him out at the Biennial of Contemporary Art and Culture in Rome or the Dak’Art Biennale in Dakar). After a meeting with Afro Fashion Week founder, Michelle Ngomo in 2017, he launched his “Jardin de l’amour” collection the following year, before launching his fashion brand this year. Fuelled by his desire to always “experiment with new media and develop beautiful and complex connections with people”, Macodou believes that “whoever wears my clothes completes the outfit – and becomes a work of art.” The collection he unveiled at MFW fused art, photography and the research he immersed himself in during lockdown, which he says “sharpened my sense of responsibility towards the dynamics of my time and era”.

Claudia Gisèle Ntsama, designer and founder of GISFAB

We are made in Italy: african desigenrs make their debut at the Milan Fashion week 2020
GISFAB SS21. Image courtesy of Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion Collective

Growing up in a family of tailors in Cameroon and helping her aunts in their atelier, Claudia Gisèle Ntsama prevailed against financial odds to put herself through fashion studies. After moving to Italy to complete a fashion design degree at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, she attended the Haute école des arts du Rhin in Strasbourg as a textile designer with the Erasmus project. The aesthetic of her brand GISFAB – which takes its name from an amalgamation of her first name and the word “fabrics” – was founded in 2016 and is inspired by contemporary art and Asian fashion. Ntsama cites Junya Watanabe and Yohji Yamamoto as her role models; the conceptual, other-worldly and abstract concepts are given a modern twist through her use of hemp as a luxurious fabric in her SS21 collection.

Joy Ijeoma Meribe, designer and founder of Modaf Designs

We are made in Italy: african desigenrs make their debut at the Milan Fashion week 2020
Modaf SS21. Image courtesy of Modaf

Joy Ijeoma Meribe’s contemporary brand, Modaf Designs, is a modern fusion of print and texture. Her spring/summer 2021 collection is the culmination of materials she had to hand during four months of intense lockdown in Italy and follows in the same vein; in her words, it’s a story of hope and the courage to dare to dream again after the lockdown. The 42-year-old Parma native grew up in Nigeria, where she says she struggled to find positive fashion designer role models. After moving to Reggio Emilia in 2003, she pursued an MA in International Business before working as a linguistic and cultural mediator and freelance business consultant. She decided it was her time to give fashion a go in 2017 and her brand today represents strength, tenacity and faith. “I would say inclusion, diversity and sustainability are the most pressing issues in the fashion industry right now,” she says, and that is why I’m moving towards working with only sustainable materials and employing only ethical production processes.”

Karim Daoudi, designer and founder of Karim Daoudi

We are made in Italy: african desigenrs make their debut at the Milan Fashion week 2020
Image courtesy of Vogue

Born in Morocco and later relocating to San Mauro Pascoli, the 27-year-old footwear and accessories designer Karim Daoudi says the effect of lockdown was to increase his creativity. “Staying at home, I had the chance to observe the world [in a different light]”. He didn’t just want to create, he wanted to wait until the inspiration came to him, and judging by his fluorescent structures and the saturated colour palette of his spring/summer 2021, his stimuli found a spark. Daoudi studied at the Cercal shoe academy in San Mauro Pascoli, specialising in technical design and modelling, before he founded his brand in 2017. It wasn’t long before his functional-meets-fierce designs caught industry attention and later that year he won an award at CNA FederModa Roma. He describes his aesthetic as a fusion of “functionality, elegance and minimalism” and namechecks the creativity and elegance of fellow Italian footwear supremos Giuseppe Zanotti and Gianvito Rossi as inspiration.

Source: Vogue UK

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