Asylum seekers on the catwalk at Pitti Uomo

  • 18 gennaio 2016
Credits: Giovanni Giannoni

Credits: Giovanni Giannoni

On January 14th, the renowned annual Pitti Fashion Show hosted a very unusual runaway show: Generation Africa.

On the catwalk the creations of four African brands – AKJP (South Africa), Ikiré Jones (USA/Nigeria), Lukhanyo Mdinigi x Nicolas Coutts (South Africa) and U.Mi-1 (Nigeria) and the models who are also asylum seekers.

The project Generation Africa was born from the partnership of Pitty Discovery Foundation and ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), and was created to provide support to examples of African micro-entrepreneurship in the fashion sector.

Wanting to promote young and prodigious African fashion designers and to show the explosive creative energy of the continent in the fashion field, Generation Africa has begun to collaborate with Lai-momo, an Italian cooperative society working with refugees and asylum seekers.

Credits: Giovanni Giannoni

Credits: Giovanni Giannoni

Last December, the guests of the reception facilities for asylum seekers managed by Lai-momo in the Province of Bologna (Emilia-Romagna region, Italy) were offered the opportunity to be selected for modelling at the Pitti Fashion Show within the framework of the Ethical Fashion Initiative.

Some guests participated in the selection organized by talent scouts of various modelling agencies and the EFI: five men were selected according to their stature and physical aspect. These young men, who are between 19 and 27 years old, come from Gambia and Mali, and in their home countries they were farmers, carpenters, waiters or retailers. Almost all of them have been in Italy since May 2015, and live in reception facilities in the Province of Bologna; some of them work as volunteers in the territories where they are hosted while waiting to hear if their asylum application has been successful or not.

Credits: Giovanni Giannoni

Credits: Giovanni Giannoni

From the start they realized they had the opportunity to make a professional experience they would have never dreamt of.

During the rehearsals, the three asylum seekers were excited and a bit insecure, but some of the professional models that were to walk on the catwalk with them reassured and encouraged them, providing little suggestions on how to perform best on the catwalk. In the confusion that dominates the backstage during the runaway show, the three young men did very well, walking on the catwalk at the right rhythm under bright lights, surrounded by the public and the international press that crowded the Dogana of Via Valfonda.

“It has been a great opportunity, but we don’t want to get a big head” the three new models commented. “The thing we liked best was the kindness of everybody, the nice way the fashion designers and the professional models treated us”.

But the project is not over. EFI and Lai-momo have decided to continue their collaboration to help asylum seekers and refugees to develop economic capacity in Italy in the tailoring and sewing sector; this will later allow them to develop skills that can be useful for entering the labour market and therefore enable them to contribute at the same time to the economic systems of their countries of origin –directly or indirectly through their remittances – or of their countries of arrival.

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