Stella Jean leaves after not appearing at Milan Fashion Week

Milan — The only Black designer affiliated with Italy’s fashion council is leaving this month’s Milan Fashion Week, citing a lack of commitment to diversity and inclusion, and announced on Wednesday that she has started a hunger strike, fearing backlash from other minority designers affiliated with her.

Stella Jean told the Associated Press that the Italian National Fashion Chamber has dramatically reduced support for the We Are Made in Italy collective, made up of young designers of color working in Italy, after giving a heated speech about the personal price it pays for highlighting racial injustice. In Italy during a fashion show last September.

The WAMI collective is pulling out of the fashion week they will open with a digital presentation with Stella Jean.

Italian Fashion Chamber President Carlo Capasa told the AP he regrets Stella Jean’s decision, adding that the final fashion week calendar presented on Wednesday is “packed with variety”.

“In the calendar we present today, you’ll see everything we do for people of color who work in Italy,” Capasa told the AP. A press conference was scheduled for later Wednesday.

Jean sent a letter to Capasa announcing her hunger strike, which she said would simply be canceled, with her written assurance that no professional harm will come to the WAMI designers and their support “as a result of our history of misunderstanding”.

“Undoubtedly this extreme measure is due to the fact that I have heard several voices from the collective concerned about the ‘soft’ or ‘hard’ repercussions, including the difficulty of obtaining funds and services from sponsors and partners, given the power you have as head of the chamber. he wrote in a letter.

Capasa said he had not read the letter yet and was unaware of the hunger strike and the withdrawal of WAMI. Both Stella Jean and WAMI are featured in the Milan Fashion Week calendar’s draft, which is mostly womenswear previews for next winter, released last month.

WAMI was launched in 2020 by Jean, African-American designer Edward Buchanan, and Michelle Ngonmo, head of Afro Fashion Week Milan, right after the Black Lives Matters movement to draw attention to the lack of minority representation in the Italian fashion world. He followed up with some of the racist blunders by major fashion houses that made headlines around the world.

Ngonmo told the AP that financial support from the chamber to the project had dwindled in the three years so far, and he was unable to find the 20,000 euros ($21,000) that would have cost Afro Fashion Week Milan. Support five young designers in creating solid looks and a video for the presentation.

Ngonmo and Jean said the Italian fashion room fully supported the collections for the two WAMI classes, each of five designers, but the third generation did not receive any funding from the room. The September show featuring Jean, Buchanan and WAMI was funded by other allies and their own contributions.

“Maybe the message is that the entire industry needs to open their eyes and say what we can do to make this happen?” Ngonmo told the AP.

Joy Meribe, a WAMI designer, opened previews of Milan Fashion Week spring-summer 2022 as a major milestone for the movement.

However, Jean said such moves have turned out to be “performative”.

“They used WAMI as a free safe behavior transition for diversity,” Jean told the AP. He said he was exhausted by the “constant struggle” for recognition of color designers in Italy.

“I’m a warrior by nature, but I can’t always be like that.”

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