Stella Jean Drops Out of Milan Fashion Week Citing Stalled Diversity Progress

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

Jean, who interrupted a press conference held by the CMNI on Wednesday, said the group had failed to make good on promises to support Black designers and that the CNMI reversed a decision to create a Black board within the organisation, which would have worked 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 following summer 2020′s social justice protests, withdrew their participation from 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 told us, ‘We didn’t know there were Italian designers who weren’t white.’ We brought them to the runway. They supported us for two years. Then we were abandoned,” Jean said at the press conference.

Jean also said she had started a hunger strike Wednesday in hopes it would circumvent retaliation against other members of WAMI. Jean has claimed that the CNMI cut back support for WAMI after she made a speech calling out racial injustice in Italy during a runway show last September. Italian Fashion Chamber President Carlo Capasa 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 participate in Milan Fashion Week and “hopes that they will change their mind.”

The organisation went on to refute Jean’s allegations of a lack of support for minority designers, claiming it “proposed” to the Stella Jean brand and the WAMI collective that they could be included “free of charge” in its official calendar and offered “a large dedicated space” to the brands inside its new Fashion Hub during fashion week. On Jean’s claims that the nonprofit abandoned plans to create a Black board focused on diversity, the nonprofit confirmed it had been in talks to 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 agreement from moving forward.

Following summer 2020′s Black Lives Matter protests, scores of fashion brands and retailers alongside industry trade groups and newly-formed nonprofit organisations like the Black in Fashion Council and the Fifteen Percent Pledge made commitments to boost diversity and inclusion across the sector, including at tentpole events like fashion month. This September, for the first time the CFDA’s official New York Fashion Week calendar includes nearly 30 Black designers, comprising 25 percent of the official schedule. But even as the industry makes some progress on diversifying certain areas, inclusion has lagged in others, such as media coverage, funding and long-term industry buy-in. Overall, support for diversity and inclusion has remained uneven across regions, with Europe and the UK often trailing progress in the US.

“As Black designers, it feels like we’re still standing on the wall — it’s still the same big brands with big budgets getting the attention and the media coverage,” Shawn Pean, the founder and creative director of luxury men’s label June79, told BoF following NYFW in September. “But that’s not what fashion’s about … it’s about identifying not just trends but [identifying] the way the world is moving … and defining undefined spaces.”

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