Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Breaking ground for emerging designers: Milan's first Afro Pop Shop Milano

Photo Credit Tatiana Benedetti Fotografa
Well-aware of the rebranding of Africa and lack of inclusion of African designers in Italy, AfroItalians are bringing forth new events to offer fresh multifaceted perspectives about African fashion.  Self described as a journalist and activist, Michelle Ngonmo, CEO of AFRO Fashion Association, and Ruth McCarthy, Vice President and founder of African Fashion Wear, launched the organization in 2015 to create a platform for emerging designers.

Photo Credit Tatiana Benedetti Fotografa

 AFRO Fashion Association hosts various events in the digital and real world emphasizing cultural exchange amongst designers in Italy, as well as to create a point of entry for designers of non-Italian background into the Italian fashion market. From their online Afro fashion week contest to Afro aperitifs to weekly posts about emerging African designers on their Facebook page Afro Milano Fashion Week, the association facilitates community building and professional networking for emerging African designers and those curious to effectively and ethically support craftsmen in African countries. Ngonmo stresses that emerging African designers have very few platforms and opportunities to showcase their work and enter the Italian market. Raised in Ferrara, Italy with Cameroonian origins, Ngonmo has been involved in challenging stereotypes about Africa and Africans abroad while studying her Bachelors in Communications and her Masters German and English Languages at the University of Ferrara and as President of the city’s African Students Association. As an AfroItalian, she hopes that the events coordinated by AFRO Fashion Week provide for growth and networking not only African designers in Italy, but also African designers across Europe and Africa to emerge from local or national markets.
Photo Credit Tatiana Benedetti Fotografa

To gear up for their annual fashion show Afro Fashion Week Milano, this past April they hosted an Afro Pop Up Shop in downtown Milan. In collaboration with AfroItalian Souls, Salambò Association, Nappy Italia, Re-eye Wear and the Municipal of Milan, they invited designers and fashion social entrepreneurs from England, Italy, Morocco, Tanzania, and Kenya to showcase their work to the general public and to selected luxury fashion stakeholders. Labels included Yemzi, Airin Tribal, Anna Ho Design, WaxMax, Miss Rouge, Hipandwaist and MDDesign. Richard Kofi, Dutch painter, illustrator, researcher of African origins, was also invited to the event to explore through art the intersections of “masculinity, backness, coming of age,” and empowerment.  With a schedule of photoshoots, press interviews, and networking appointments, and a room filled with wax prints and West African music, I had the opportunity to speak with some of the designers about their fashion labels, inspirations, and their objectives for participating. One particular designer caught my eye as she creates her own textiles inspired by natural elements.

British-Nigerian oil painter and digital printer Elizabeth-Yemi Akingbade, founded her label Yemzi in 2013 to showcase new African print inspired designs. As a local of London, and her experiences traveling to other European capitals, she describes these cities as “saturated” with wax prints when it comes to African textiles. Encouraged to create her own patterns and designs using her painting and digital printing skills, she began developing her own African inspired prints as way to diversify the perception of what African prints can look like. With a Bachelors degree in Surface Design at the University of Arts London, where she developed her skills in textiles and digital design. Her goals for attending the Pop Up Shop were to receive direct constructive feedback from the general public and potential stakeholders. She brought cotton and silk tops, bottoms and one piece jumpsuits.

Photocredit Yemzi

Ngonmo added not only African designers need more platforms, but also cosmetics for darker skin are hardly available in Italy. AFRO Fashion Association, as well as their collaborating stakeholders, are ready to bring market more African designers and cosmetics for darker skin in Italy. Ngonmo, Maccarthy, and their team are currently preparing for the launch of the Afro Milan Fashion Week this coming September, to highlight designers and cosmetics of various cultures. Feel free to follow their Facebook page AFRO Fashion Association to learn more about their upcoming events and to participate the next time you are in Milan or in their online contests!

 Candice Whitney is currently a Fulbright research grantee based in Bologna, Italy conducting research on how the historical and political processes that shape Italy's contemporary relationship with African countries impacts the promotion of products and business relations amongst African women entrepreneurs in Italy.  Since receiving her Bachelors of Art in Anthropology and Italian cum laude from Mount Holyoke College in 2015 she has lived and worked in Morocco and Italy as a teacher and researcher. As an African American and a traveller, she is curious to understand how  self-identifying Black and African womyn perceive themselves, their surroundings, and their projects. When she's not researching, she is  reading memoirs or essays, cooking up some chickpeas in a spicy sauce, or improving her rollerblading skills. 

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