Meaningful political statements in fashion don’t happen as often as we’d like. But when they do, people definitely pay attention. Just take Generation Africa for instance—a fashion show that sent three asylum-seekers down the runway at the end of Pitti Uomo last week.
According to AFP, the event was organized by the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative and Fondazione Pitti Discovery. It was intended to promote four up-and-coming designers and brands that hail from the Mother Continent: AKJP, Ikiré Jones, Lukhanyo Mdinigi x Nicholas Coutts, and U.Mi-1. The concept, in and of itself, was pretty noble, but what really had the industry buzzing was the decision to cast three men who are attempting to get refugee status.
According to a press release by Lai-momo, an organization that assists African migrants, the three men are from Gambia and Mali, and are between the ages of 19 and 27. They have each been in Europe since May of last year and are currently going through the asylum application process.
"Clothing is just a vehicle. I'm much more interested in discussing these issues... of migration, of borders being crossed,” Ikire Jones designer Wale Oyejide explained to AFP. “If I take an asylum-seeker and put them in a suit, people perceive them in a certain way, which hopefully allows them to think of them as an equal human being, not as someone's less than them.”
It’s a message of inclusion that also puts a spotlight on a very serious and incredibly sensitive issue. Just last year, Hungarian photographer Norbert Baska attempted to address the mistreatment and discrimination of refugees through a fashion shoot that was inspired by events at Hungary’s border. But he ultimately received more hate than praise, as many people criticized him for “glamorizing” the brutality.
Unlike the controversial photo shoot, the Generation Africa show not only addressed the refugee crisis, but it is also striving to provide a solution.
“We want to show that migrants are a resource,” Simone Ciprian, founder of the Ethical Fashion Initiative, told AFP. “We are setting up a training center for refugees and migrants in Italy to work in the industry of fashion and be enabled to go back home and set up their own businesses there.”