In the wake of their acclaimed runway debut during September’s Milan Fashion Week, the “Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion” collective came back for another digital show celebrating diversity

Text by: Gilda Bruno

Gisèle Claudia Ntsama, Fabiola Manirakiza, Joy Ijeoma Meribe, Karim Daoudi, and Macodou Fall: these are the names of the “fab five bridge builders” rewriting the rules of the Italian fashion industry. The Africa-born dream team is part of the “Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion” collective: a platform launched by fellow designers Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan alongside Afro Fashion week founder Michelle Ngonmo to make up for the lack of representation of BIPOC talent within the Made in Italy label. 

“Those who have the power to change the situation should give people of colour the chance to prove their value,” Ngonmo said in a press release. “When this happens, we know they will regret not having chased the opportunity to collaborate and create with such incredible talents before.”

Relying on the prestigious stage of MFW to raise their voices against systemic violence and racism, the five featured designers opened yesterday’s digital event with collections showcasing their sense of belonging to the Bel Paese. Titled no less than We Are Made in Italy, the live-streamed presentation started off with short clips portraying the designers at work in their studios. With a soulful R&B soundtrack setting the pace for the models’ iconic catwalks, the focus shifted onto the creations of the talented bunch in a touching, highly-anticipated moment that went down in history. 

“I’ve been holding back for long enough,” reads the lyrics of one of the songs that accompanied yesterday’s collective digital show. For the record, this time, the five designers appeared unstoppable. Merging African cultural influences with the excellence of Italian craftsmanship, We Are Made in Italy proved that BIPOC creatives must have a say in the evolution of the Italian fashion industry. Among the partners involved in the project stood out Al-an Tricot Maglificio, Maritex Stamperie, Nillab Manifatture Italiane S.p.A., San Andrès Milano and Taroni SPA.

Image Courtesy of Afro Fashion Week

Cameroon-born Gisèle Claudia Ntsama broke the ice with a tricot rendition of African-inspired silhouettes, ranging from maxi transparent dresses to short fluttering skirts, all crafted from hemp yarns in beautiful earth tones. A graduate of Bologna’s Art Academy, she gave in to her interest in textile design during an Erasmus student exchange program at Strasbourg’s Haute Ecole des Arts du Rhin.

“When I was studying in Strasbourg, I had the chance to learn more about noble fibres, including hemp, and I fell in love with that,” the designer explained in a press release. “People don’t know how great it is, and my goal is to showcase how it can be used in different ways, also within the fashion industry.”

Image Courtesy of Afro Fashion Week

The second designer to present her creations was Fabiola Manirakiza, founder of Frida-Kiza, whose collection — inspired by Botticelli’s “Spring”  painting — combined ethnic prints with clean, elegant lines in the form of feminine suits, dresses, and retro-cut shorts. “I look at Italian art through the eyes of an African,” said the designer of Burundi origin, who has lived in the Marche region since 1990. 

Image Courtesy of Afro Fashion Week

Manirakiza was followed by Moroccan-born Karim Daoudi, who mixed leather, geometric shapes, and sparkling details boldly in a footwear collection characterised by a strong personality. Featuring styles ranging from pumps to sexy cage boots, Daoudi, who studied at the Cercal footwear school in San Mauro Pascoli, had already showcased his creations in prestigious venues such as The One Milano trade show. 

Image Courtesy of Afro Fashion Week

Soon it was the turn of Nigerian designer Joy Ijeoma Meribe, who enchanted the public with a delicate play of organza transparencies and silky moves in the name of female elegance. The effortless sophistication demonstrated during yesterday’s digital presentation is just one of the gifts of the Parma-based designer who, among the others, holds a specialisation in linguistics and cultural mediation. 

“In my collections, I want to celebrate my African roots while anchoring them in a more cosmopolitan image,” Meribe said in a press release, where she also stressed how powerful women serve as the muses for her garments. 

Image Courtesy of Afro Fashion Week

Senegal-born Macodou Fall, the artist and designer behind the fashion brand Mokodu, wrapped it up with a colourful hand-painted collection featuring, among the others, vivid abstract shapes, animalesque patterns, and ancestors-inspired designs.

Describing his production as “an artistic journey moving from canvases onto clothing,” the founder of Mokodu reconnected with the untold, pristine beauty of Africa in a collection that paid homage to its most prominent figures — from Nelson Mandela to Fela Kuti and Miriam Makeba. “For my fashion debut on the MFW runway, I wanted to celebrate the protagonists of African culture in a dutiful tribute to their priceless contributions,” the designer explained.

Confirming the success of this first edition, we can’t wait to see what both these designers and the “Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion” collective will do next.