MILAN — Marking its sixth anniversary, Afro Fashion Week Milan is building on the seeds it has sown so far — forging new partnerships and gaining Virgil Abloh’s support.
The men’s artistic director of Louis Vuitton and founder of Off-White is designing a T-shirt to be sold via the Afro Fashion Association’s website to raise funds and support its initiatives.
The new edition of Afro Fashion Week, organized by the Italy-based nonprofit association that has been actively promoting the African continent’s designers and creative talents over the past six years, will run Sept. 23 to 26 and encompass a range of fashion shows and talks for which it is continuing to partner with the Camera della Moda, as well as forging new ties with Sistema Moda Italia.
“We addressed the diversity and inclusion theme before it was trending to do so, this year our focus is shifting toward the secondhand market in developing countries and especially the African continent,” explained Michelle Francine Ngonmo, the association’s president, during a virtual press conference Wednesday.
The theme will extend to all events part of the calendar and references the “mitumba” phenomenon, such as the resale of secondhand clothing originally donated to Africa by wealthy countries and delivered in plastic-wrapped packages, or bundles, which are called mitumba in Swahili.
It is expected to translate into fashion collections high on upcycling and recycling techniques, for which Milano Unica exhibitors, represented by SMI, have supplied textiles.
Designer Stella Jean, a partner of Afro Fashion Association and the mastermind behind the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion Collective together with Edward Buchanan and Ngonmo, said the theme is meant to “highlight an issue that is often disregarded or unseen. It’s basically a skeleton in an open closet.”
Jean and Buchanan have been actively tutoring and mentoring the 11 designers taking part in the 2021 edition of Afro Fashion Week also from a creative standpoint. This year’s “Fab Five Bridge Builders International” will include designers of color hailing from all over the world. The group will comprise five Cameroon-born designers who studied at the LABA Douala university, as well as six creatives based in Italy but coming from Burkina Faso, Burundi, Vietnam and Kenya, among others.
Five female designers hailing from five different African countries will be spotlighted through the “We Are Made in Italy” project kicking off Milan Fashion Week on Sept. 22.
“The mentoring and tutoring activity is pivotal in supporting and encouraging people in learning their own value and improve their skills to become the person they want to be,” said Buchanan. “BIPOC don’t necessarily have a mentor and education is not always affordable and available,” he added.
To this end, the designer underscored the imminent launch of a database gathering 300,000 individuals of color connected to the fashion industries, such as stylists, designers, seamstresses, web masters, and social media managers, to be made available to the industry.
“The industry often complains that it cannot find BIPOC people to fill in their open positions, so the aim [of the database] is to avoid those complaints and excuses,” Buchanan said.