The Ethical Fashion Initiative brought together its best and brightest at a soiree showcase for its first official event on the Paris Fashion Week calendar.
“This is the best group of designers we have accelerated,” said program chief technical adviser Simone Cipriani. “We wanted them to be here in fashion week because these people are not only designers, in their own countries they’re agents of change. We find that this new generation of creative talents have something to say in the world of today.”
Among the labels on show from across Africa were Hamaji, Katush, Kente Gentlemen, Laurenceairline and Lukhanyo Mdingi, representing ready-to-wear, and Jiamini, Margaux Wong, Ohiri and Suave with accessories.
EFI, a partnership under the U.N.’s umbrella, was launched in 2009 but the pandemic and the fashion industry’s resulting reckoning with its role in inequality and the climate crisis have increased the focus on inclusive companies.
“We have more brands and distributors calling us [now], because they need to do something that is socially sustainable. And we have a very strong social agenda, and are environmentally sustainable. So I think the message has been received,” he said.
Mdingi, last year’s winner of the LVMH Karl Lagerfeld Prize, was on hand to present his collection of brightly colored knitwear that deftly toes the line between artisanal and refined.
“I’ve discovered that there’s a certain kind of honesty that comes with the woven fabrics because of the human hand behind it, and the lineage of the craftsmanship in itself. So having that as part of our brand DNA adds a certain kind of humanness that we really want.”
Hamaji featured delicate dresses, trousers, coats and hats from sustainably sourced, ethically upcycled velvet. Designer Louise Sommerlatte said the collection of lightweight separates is for “the year-round summer” of Kenya.
The mythical crocodile was a focus for Ivory Coast-based designer Ohiri, with the animal interpreted in chunky rings, bracelets and a top strap to great effect.
Cipriani added that the main issue plaguing the industry is a lack of consistent standards, greenwashing and social washing. He advocates for an international framework and labeling. “Consumers are confused, and this is bad, especially for the youngest generation that wants to see facts. The industry has to learn to speak sustainability in a clear way.”
EFI will host its first fashion sustainability award with the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana later this year, and hopes to bring other fashion weeks on board soon.