West News Wire: The only Black designer who is a member of Italy’s fashion council is pulling out of this month’s Milan Fashion Week due to a lack of commitment to diversity and inclusion. On Wednesday, she announced a hunger strike out of fear that other minority designers who are connected to her will face backlash.
After Stella Jean passionately spoke about the personal cost she had paid for bringing attention to racial injustice in Italy during a runway show last September, the Italian National Fashion Chamber significantly reduced support for the We Are Made in Italy collective of young designers of color working in Italy, Stella Jean told The Associated Press.
The WAMI collective, who were scheduled to launch fashion week with a digital show, is leaving the event alongside Stella Jean.
Italian Fashion Chamber President Carlo Capasa told the AP that he regretted Stella Jean’s decision, adding that the final fashion week calendar being presented Wednesday is “full of diversity.”
“In the calendar that we are presenting today, you will see all that we are doing for people of color who are working in Italy,” Capasa told the AP. A news conference was scheduled for later Wednesday.
Jean sent a letter to Capasa informing him of her hunger strike, which she said would be revoked only with his written assurance that no professional harm would come to the WAMI designers and supports “as a result of our history of misunderstanding.”
“This admittedly extreme measure of mine stems from having heard several voices from the collective worried about ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ repercussions, including difficulty in securing funding and services from sponsors and partners, given the power wielded by you as president of the chamber in the industry,’’ she wrote in a letter obtained by the AP.
Capasa said he hadn’t yet read the letter and was unaware of the hunger strike and WAMI’s withdrawal. Both Stella Jean and WAMI appeared on a draft of the Milan Fashion Week calendar of mostly womenswear previews for next winter released last month.
WAMI was launched on the heels of the Black Lives Matters movement in 2020 by Jean, African-American designer Edward Buchanan and the head of Afro Fashion Week Milano, Michelle Ngonmo, to draw attention to the lack of minority representation in the Italian fashion world. It followed some racial gaffes by major fashion houses that made global headlines.
Ngonmo told the AP that financial support for the project from the chamber had dwindled over the three years it has run so far, and that Afro Fashion Week Milano wasn’t able to come up with the 20,000 euros ($21,000) it would have cost to support the five young designers in making solid looks to present, plus a video.