Do Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion?

Photo by Tembela Bohle on

Pioneer African designer Joy Meribe opens Milan Fashion Week representing the We Are Made In Italy, Fab Five project .


By Violeta Nanutti / News Contributor

ROME—  Afro-descendant fashion designers showcase their creations at the Milan Fashion Week officially launching the new project Fab Five by We are Made in Italy (WAMI), where Joy Meribe was selected to open the week with her Spring/Summer 2022 collection during a six-day preview starting Sept. 22.  

Born and raised in Nigeria, Meribe said that opening the Milan Fashion Week was a dream come true.  When the show finished, she broke down in tears thanking the fashion council and the WAMI founders for getting her to the runway, as AP reports.  

The Fab Five We Are Made in Italy  is part of the Black Lives Matter Fashion in Italy (BLMFI) and is supported by the Black-led non-profit association,  Afro Fashion Milan.  This year, the project also received the support  of  Condé Nast. The WAMI initiative behind the Fab Five is the first official BIPOC board of the Italian Fashion council  @cameramoda, founded in  2020  by a trio of designers and advocates for Black fashion in Italy:

Stella  Jean:  Italian-Haitian, Rome-based designer  and  founder of  Stella Jean  Roma  fashion brand.   

Edward Buchanan:  African American founder and artistic director of the sansovino6 Milano fashion brand in Italy.  

Michelle Francine  Ngonmo:  Cameroonian designer and founder of  the  Afro Fashion Week Milan,  founder  and  president of the  Afro  Fashion  association  in Milan and Cameroon  and leader  of WAMI.  Ngonmo lived in Italy since she was very young. She has a degree in Audiovisual, Multimedia communication, and a specialist degree in Foreign Languages.  Currently Ngonmo is director of All-TV and president of the African Students  Association  in Ferrara.

The late fashion designer Virgil Abloh had also supported  the project.  Abloh was an artist, architect,  civil  engineer, the founder of the fashion brand in Italy,  Off-White and the creative director of Louis Vuitton Men. 

 As of today, WAMI plans to  showcase  the work of five Black fashion designers each year.  

The 2021 Fab Five  are:   Claudia Gisele from Cameroon; Senegalese fashion designer Pape Macodou Fall; alias Mokodu; Burundi-born Frida Kiza; Karim Daoudi from Morocco; and Joy Meribe from Nigeria.

WAMI  selected  Meribe  as the feature designer to open this year’s  Milan Fashion Week.  Meribe  has been  part of the Afro Fashion association since its inception six years ago. She is one of the designers that presented a collective digital show during the Milan Fashion Show of 2020. Meribe is currently working on her Autumn-Winter 22/23 collection. 

Meribe said that she has always loved fashion,  but her family wanted and expected a university degree from her—so  that is what she did first.  After  graduating  in  Foreign Languages and Literature in  2003, she  got her MBA in  Reggio Emilia and  eventually  decided to go to fashion school  at the Istituto  Burgo circuit in Modena and Bologna to study  pattern making and fashion design. In 2017,  Meribe  founded her  brand, originally  calling it  Modaf  designs  and changing the name to Joy  Meribe  in February.  In 2018,  her brand became an official business in Italy where  she lives  full time.   

 “WAMI was created with a precise goal: to fight for concrete, not just theoretical, inclusion, contrasting all types of racism and working towards an actual recognition of the contribution that BIPOC creativity can give to fashion,” writes  Veronica Constanza Ward for the September cover by  Vogue Italia.

In 2020,  Jean  launched the campaign, ”Do  Black Lives Matter in Italian  Fashion?”  to urge fashion brands to hire more black artists and decided  not to  participate  in the 2020 Milan Fashion Week, according to a BBC interview.  Listen here.  

Jean  said  that  she  had been  hearing  the  voices of the  Black Lives Matter Movement in the United States, while in Italy  she perceived these voices were  still  seen in a  negative  light by many.

Buchanan and Stella wrote a letter to Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) questioning if “Black lives matter in Italian fashion” and addressing the lack of inclusivity in Italy. Since then, Buchanan said the future looks optimistic, and if anyone can make a change it will be this generation to do it.

“While  what they are doing is so beautiful and so good, the question that I keep asking myself is why they were they not recognized before,” said fashion designer and JCU alumna, Lenora Biche from Bamenda, Cameroon. “I have misgivings about the way the media makes certain things look because those things should have been looked at from the beginning.”

Biche  also owns her own company since 2020:  Lenora’s Confident Closet.   Her job is to help CEOs better express themselves and their brand by using fashion to make them feel confident.

JCU’s  Fashion Club  President  and  senior  International Affairs major, Lara Asoli, said there is a significant lack of representation of other cultures in Italian Fashion. Asoli said that she was not familiar with the WAMI to the Fab Five, but after hearing about their work, she said that what they are doing is amazing.

Last year, the Fashion Club presented a fashion show with the JCU African Culture Club, showcasing clothing curated by the African club members.

Asoli  said a goal for the upcoming fashion show in April 2022 is to have the involvement and participation of other cultures again.

The  Photo Vogue  Festival this November included conversations on diversity in Italy, where one of the main subjects presented is a discussion on Afro-descendants in Italy and decolonization. 

Further reading and related content  

These Boss Ladies Are Taking Over Italian Fashion at MFW, by VOIR fashion  

Black, Creative and Collaborating Across Generations, by Business of Fashion  

Stella Jean Sees Progress on Race in Italy as Companies Move Beyond Masked by ‘Corporate Colonialism,’ by WWD

Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion, by AFROSARTORIALISM- A research project on African fashion digitalities  

SS22 Milan round up: Ed Buchanan on old guard vs. new guard, the Perfect Magazine 

Virgil Abloh, Creative Genius Whose Vision for Fashion Transcended Boundaries and Crossed Into Art, Has Died at 41, by Artnet