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Italy’s fashion industry lags behind on diversity and inclusion

Two Italian designers – and founders of the organisation We Are Made in Italy – have boycotted fashion week in Milan. They claim that the event’s organisers have not kept their promises to boost diversity and inclusion in the space.

Many fashion-forward nations have made it their mission to achieve higher levels of diversity and inclusion within their local industries. But Italy, one of the fashion capitals of the world, has been consistently criticised for falling short.

It’s a disappointing reality that has been best highlighted by the organisation We Are Made in Italy (WAMI), which was founded in 2020. From the outset, it has aimed to boost visibility for designers struggling to break into the industry due to systemic barriers.

To do so, WAMI started working closely with Milan Fashion Week to promote greater representation of people of colour, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people with disabilities at the event.

But only three years later, the organisation’s founders – Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan – have made the decision to boycott the week-long event.

The pair say organisers’ efforts towards improving diversity and inclusivity in the local fashion scene have lost momentum since the start of its partnership. The Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) ­– an organisation which upholds the cultural values of Italy’s fashion industry –  has appeared to have abandoned the mission of getting to the root of where its biggest inequalities lie.


Indications of virtue signalling unfold

One of the core initiatives launched by WAMI in Italy during Milan Fashion Week is the ‘Spotlight on…’ project, which focuses on showcasing a culturally diverse range of designers based in Italy.

During WAMI’s first presentation in 2020, CNMI ­agreed to sponsor and fund a digital fashion show featuring designers from underrepresented communities. Its investors even committed €7,000 of their own money to the breakout event.

It’s important to remember, though, that these efforts took place in a time period when many global brands and organisations were showing an outpouring of support for BLM via advertising and social media campaigns due to global protests.

In the following year, CNMI moved to sponsor another digital fashion show for emerging BIOPC designers. Its co-founders invested €15,000 into supporting the production of their collections.

But at 2022’s Milan Fashion Week, major fashion corporations such as Vogue Italia, GQ and Vanity Fair took the opportunity to fund the production of the young designers’ capsule collections.

As a result, CNMI offered only a free showroom and presentation space to support the show. This, the founders of WAMI believe, does little to solve the systemic inequalities plaguing Italy’s fashion industry.

Money and exposure helps, but not much

In the eyes of Stella Jean from WAMI, receiving funds from CNMI – which often cannot suffice to cover the full financial costs of producing numerous clothing collections – is not enough.

Jean spoke with Vogue about the need for greater representation of BIPOC within all areas of Italian fashion, saying, ‘We want to see Black, Brown, and all other colours in fashion, not just as models, but as stakeholders in the industry.’

While funding collections by BIOPC designers and offering them platforms at major events does uplift their professions, it does little to change the reality of racial exclusivity of Italy’s fashion scene.

It’s clear that there is still much work to be done to achieve greater diversity at the top of the industry. Initiatives like WAMI, and the public message they’ve sent by boycotting their local fashion week, represents important steps forward.

Only time will tell if major organisations such as CNMI will begin to do the necessary work urged of them.