By  on June 28, 2012

NEW YORK — Italian Vogue’s Franca Sozzani on Thursday called upon other fashion executives to pledge their support for the United Nations-backed Fashion 4 Development initiative.

During a roundtable discussion in the morning and later at a press conference, Sozzani and other F4D leaders mapped out new commitments to the Every Woman Every Child program led by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. Attendees were repeatedly urged to put African artisans and manufacturers to work. Launched in February, F4D aims to further the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals.

Roberto Cavalli, Donatella Versace, Ilaria Fendi and Alberta Ferretti are among the designers who plan to produce some goods in Africa, according to F4D cofounder and global chair Evie Evangelou.

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Well aware of the political strife, poverty and threat of disease in Africa, she said, “We have to see the positive. You can’t say, ‘Don’t go to Ghana because there is malaria.’ C’mon — do something. You should not give up. That’s why people have been alone for so long really because others give up.…The main problem is they can do the work but they don’t have enough work to do.

“Every country has a problem. Do you think Italy is having its best moment? You know what? It has not been our best moment for 15 years but we are still here and we’re doing well,” Sozzani said.

Ermenegildo Zegna has plans to open 50 stores in Africa, and now the challenge is to have the company do some manufacturing there. “Do you think they would be opening the shops if they don’t think the clients are there?” Sozzani said.

Ambassador Cesare Ragaglini, the permanent representative of Italy to the U.N., said, “Fashion and manufacturing are key drivers of economic growth. We need to partner to mobilize people and your industry has great potential to mobilize people.”

Robert Orr, assistant secretary general for policy planning, said, “One thing we have learned through the Millenium Development Goals is where you succeed with women, you will succeed with all of your goals. Where you fail with women, you will fail with all your goals The fashion industry has a dual role to play. There are many important women in the industry and there are also many women who look to fashion. Here, you have mobilization potential of one of our most underused assets in the world — engaging women in leadership positions in leading their communities, countries and the world.”

Several attendees emphasized the need to reduce tariffs and taxes to make manufacturing in Africa more appealing to apparel companies. One speaker, Ray Chambers, MDG advocate and the secretary general’s special envoy for malaria, promised to try to get the matter on the agenda of the African Union Summit that he will attend July 15 in Malawi. “We did it for insecticide-treated mosquito nets. Why can’t we do that for imports or raw materials that wind up in finished goods?”

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