Caribbean Roots Italian Designer Tackles Racism In Italy’s Fashion Industry

haitian-roots-designer-stella-jean
Stella Jean, the first Italian black and Caribbean roots designer, at the Black Lives Matter protest in Piazza del Popolo against racism, police brutality, and to commemorate the death of African American George Floyd, who died on May 25 during a police arrest in Minneapolis, as seen on June 7, 2020 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Marilla Sicilia/Archivio Marilla Sicilia/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
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By NAN Staff Writer 

News Americas, BROOKLYN, NY, Weds. Sept. 9, 2020: Italy’s first black designer, whose roots extend to the Caribbean, is tackling racism in the Italian fashion industry head on.

Stella Jean, who was born and raised in Rome to Haitian mother, Violette Jean, and an Italian father, Marcello Novarino, told the BBC she decided not to showcase in this year’s Milan Fashion Week in protest over racism in the industry.

She has since launched a campaign asking ‘Do Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion?’ and is urging brands to hire more blacks in fashion in Italy. Jean says enough is enough and “it’s time to turn the page” and demand fashion reform.

Last month, alongside Milan-based designer Edward Buchanan, Jean issued letters to Carlo Capasa, president of the Camera della Moda, and to the organization’s 14 executive members in what Jean described as “an historical appeal to bring to the forefront for the first time in our history, the paradoxical taboo topic of racism in Italy… and also to support Black designers who are still invisible in the business of Italian fashion.”

Italy’s fashion council says a lot of its brands are trying hard to be more inclusive but that the government and other organizations have to drive positive change.

But Jean says in order to effect change, fashion leaders and executives must have an open discussion about what more can be done to boost diversity within their organizations. She said while brands rushed to post black squares on social media after protests over the George Floyd killing, leaders must first address the lack of diversity within their corporate structures.

“[Brands] have long preached multiculturalism but have rarely applied such concepts beyond the media window… [and] in the spaces away from the spotlight where no one is watching,” she recently told Businessoffashion.com. “[This is a] wound that we have ignored for far too long… If you don’t understand that awareness is the first step in solving the problem, this wound will never heal.”

She and Milan-based African American designer Buchanan, Afro Fashion Week Milan founder Michelle Ngonmo and the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana (CNMI) president, Carlo Capasa, will launch a working group called Black Lives Matter In Italian Fashion.

As a part of the initiative, representatives from Italian fashion houses will be invited to participate in a think tank taking place on September 22, which will highlight the need for concrete action regarding more internal and structural diversity behind the scenes at Italian fashion companies. “Discussing fashion reform and setting a precedent for rules to be adopted by the CNMI from day one,” will be key talking points, Jean told Vogue. “From this moment on, [people] won’t have the excuse to say they didn’t know this [discrimination] was happening.”

Jean, 41, is a former model and self-taught Italian-Haitian designer whose clothes have been worn by celebrities like Rihanna and Beyoncé. She uses her mother’s maiden name for her brand.

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