Stella Jean pulls out of Milan Fashion Week citing progress in diversity

Stella Jean, the only black member of the National Chamber of Italian Fashion, has said she will no longer show at this month’s Milan Fashion Week, claiming the nonprofit has “abandoned” plans to support minority designers.

Jean, who interrupted a press conference held by the CMNI on Wednesday, said the group had failed to keep promises to support black designers and that the CNMI had reversed a decision to create a black board within the organization, which would have work to promote diversity and inclusion in the Italian fashion industry, as first reported by the AP.

As a result, Jean and several members of We Are Made in Italy, a collective of black and brown designers formed in the wake of social justice protests in the summer of 2020, pulled out of the country’s fashion week. Two other WAMI members, Zineb Hazim and Karim Daoudi, remain on the Milan Fashion Week schedule with a joint presentation.

“The chamber said to us, ‘We didn’t know there were Italian designers who weren’t white.’ We brought them to the catwalk. They supported us for two years. Then they abandoned us,” Jean said at the press conference.

Zhan also said she began a hunger strike on Wednesday in hopes of avoiding retaliation against other WAMI members. Jean claimed that the CNMI cut off support for WAMI after she made a speech calling out racial injustice in Italy during a catwalk show last September. Italian Chamber of Fashion President Carlo Capassa reportedly assured Jean from the lectern Wednesday that the chamber had no intention of retaliating, the AP reported.

In a statement emailed to The Business of Fashion on Thursday, the CNMI said it “regrets” that Jean and other WAMI members will not be participating in Milan Fashion Week and “hopes they will change their minds.”

The organization went on to refute Jean’s claims of a lack of support for minority designers, claiming it “suggested” to the Stella Jean brand and the WAMI collective that they could be included “for free” in its official calendar and offered “a large dedicated space” to brands inside the new Fashion Hub during fashion week. Based on Jean’s claims that the non-profit organization abandoned plans to create a diversity-focused blackboard, the non-profit organization confirmed that it was in talks with Jean and the African Fashion Association (AFA) in 2021 to form a committee , but said AFA did not sign the “Memorandum of Understanding” which prevented the deal from moving forward.

In the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests of the summer of 2020, many fashion brands and retailers along with industry trade groups and startup nonprofits like the Black in Fashion Council and the Fifteen Percent Pledge made commitments to strengthen diversity and inclusion across the industry, including events such as fashion month. This September, for the first time the official CFDA New York Fashion Week calendar features nearly 30 black designers, making up 25 percent of the official schedule. However, even as the industry is making some progress in diversifying some areas, inclusion has lagged in others, such as media coverage, funding and long-term buy-in from the industry. Overall, support for diversity and inclusion remained uneven across regions, with Europe and the UK often trailing the US in progress.

“As black designers, we feel like we’re still standing against the wall — it’s still the same big brands with big budgets that get attention and media coverage,” said Shawn Pean, founder and creative director of luxury men’s label June79. BoF follows NYFW in September. “But that’s not what fashion is about… it’s about recognizing not just trends but [identifying] the way the world moves… and defining undefined spaces’.

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