Milan Fashion Week: 5 African Designers Debut Collections
Five designers of African descent made their runway debut during Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday under a banner stating “We are Made in Italy,” having realized dreams deemed unimaginable in their homelands.
Joy Meribe, who is originally from Nigeria, started out working in Italy as a cultural mediator. Fabiola Manirakiza came to Italy as a child from Burundi and first trained as a doctor.
Morocco-born Karim Daoudi grew up in a shoe-making town in northern Italy and eventually took up the local craft. Pape Macodou Fall arrived from Senegal at age 22, applying his creative streak as an actor, film producer, figurative painter and now, as a designer of up-cycled garments.
Just one of the five, Cameroonian Gisele Claudia Ntsama, set her sights on Italy to pursue a fashion career.
“When I told friends in Cameroon that I wanted to travel to Italy to become a fashion designer, they said, ‘Why are you going to study fashion. You know you are Black? What Italian fashion house is going to hire you?’” Ntsama said in a video chat with The Associated Press. “It is always in people’s minds that fashion is for white people. No and no and no!”
The designers, dubbed the ‘Fab Five’, are the first batch of creators to go through a program in collaboration between the National Chamber of Italian Fashion and the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion movement. The founder of the collective, Michelle Ngonmo created the program after failing to get the industry’s attention in her own career. The designers received mentorship from industry experts and supplier connections to help launch their brands.
Meribe worked with silk from the Como-based textile company Taroni, revisiting some of her earlier designs for her Modaf Designs brand that she has traditionally made from cotton renderings of traditional African wax textiles.
“This collection is the most luxurious I have ever created. For this capsule collection, I went beyond every possibility,” Meribe said.
Daoudi worked with Veneto shoemaker Ballin, which produces footwear for Bottega Veneta, Chanel and Hermes, to create his collection of high heel sandals and boots. He said the association helped him produce more challenging designs.
“I hope that there are buyers,” he said, adding that the producer plans to help him fill any orders he receives.
Ngomno believes that the Fab Five showcase will begin to break the boundaries of race in the fashion industry. She offers a solution to the division in the industry through her program.
“This has to have deeper roots. If we want to have true change, we need to offer the same opportunities that their colleagues have had, give them the same instruments and experiences,” Ngonmo said. “Let’s say this is a good first step.”