Italian-Haitian Designer Stella Jean Denounces Lack Of Diversity, Begins Hunger Strike

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Stella Jean, an Italian-Haitian designer, accused Italy’s National Fashion Chamber on Wednesday of reducing support for WAMI, a collective of designers representing the country’s multicultural society.

Stella Jean interrupted an Italian National Fashion Chamber press conference to announce that she and five members of the We Are Made in Italy collective (WAMI) would not be attending Milan Fashion Week, which runs from February 21 to February 27.

She also revealed she had reached out ti the Chamber to sound the alarm on the poor financial condition of some designers: “[I have written a letter] of eight pages to the president [Of Italy’s National Fashion Chamber] asking that the young people who have prepared their collections, who have gone into debts, do not have the funds,” she charged.

“Because, ladies and gentlemen, you always speak of billions but the little artisans, the little independent brands make an effort not only to make it to the end of the month but to buy the material necessary to prepare a collection, and since we are the only one that do 100% made in Italy because we do it all here.”

“Retaliation”

The sole Black designer of Italy’s fashion chamber also denounced retaliatory actions coming after she highlighted racial injustice in Italy.

She accused the chamber of significantly cutting back support for WAMI after she made an impassioned speech about the personal price she had paid for highlighting racial injustice in Italy during a runway show last September.

The president of the Italian Fashion chamber denied that, noting that two WAMI designers from previous seasons would present collections at the fashion week.

“We offered to WAMI a day for free at our beautiful Fashion hub and they chose not to do it; Carlo Carpasa revealed.

“[If] it is fair that businesses choose how to show themselves, a day at the Fashion hub would have been a great opportunity, though.”

Stella Jean also said she had started a hunger strike out of concern for members of WAMI, an initiative launched in 2020, could suffer a professional backlash for her activism.

“I think that when you speak of retaliations, professional lynching, death threats, people, I work in fashion. I don’t traffic arms, I don’t traffic drugs or make money from trafficking humans, so what we need to talk about here is simply fashion,” she commented.

“Speaking for people fearing for their livelihood”

“It is absurd, vile, shameful and inhuman that for this reason, I must speak for people who feel their lives are in danger, because they are afraid that they will suffer the same retaliation I got and they don’t have the strength to resist, the don’t have to strength to handle it.”

WAMI was launched in 2020 by Jean, African-American designer Edward Buchanan and the head of Afro Fashion Week Milano, Michelle Ngonmo. They wanted to draw attention to the lack of minority representation in Italy’s fashion world.

Jean said the National Fashion Chamber  backtracked on a promise to create a Black board within the chamber to promote diversity and inclusion.

Capasa told AP that he decided against the board after WAMI made social media posts that cast a negative light on some Italian fashion brands.

“We wrote a nice letter, saying we want to give them the liberty to express themselves,” Capasa said, adding that the chamber could not host any board that appeared to take public swipes at other members.

He also noted that the chamber had included on the fashion week calendar the inaugural edition of the Black Carpet Awards recognizing the achievements of minorities in Italian society, and was hosting another diversity initiative by the owner and editor of U.S.-based Blanc Magazine, Teneshia Carr.

WAMI was launched in 2020 by Jean, African-American designer Edward Buchanan and the head of Afro Fashion Week Milano, Michelle Ngonmo. They wanted to draw attention to the lack of minority representation in Italy’s fashion world.

 

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