The catwalk of the esteemed Florence fashion exhibition, Pitti Uomo, took a notably different direction as three of the models who came down the runway were asylum seekers.
The show they walked in, Generation Africa, featured four African designers: AKJP, Ikiré Jones, Lukhanyo Mdingi x Nicholas Coutts, and U.mi-1. According to Dazed, the models, between 19 and 27 years old, came from Gambia and Mali.
Although they had no prior experience modeling, they took to the runway like pros—“they pulled off the trademark model walk—one even shooting the cameras a smoldering look worthy of a supermodel as he stopped to pose at the end of the runway,” reports Agence France-Presse.
The idea was initially conceived by the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative. The organization's head and founder, Simone Cipriani, explained to AFP that, “As we are in Italy and have a huge refugee crisis, we also want to show that migrants are a resource."
The goal, however, was not just to raise awareness, but to allow migrants to “work in the industry of fashion and be enabled to go back home and set up their own businesses there,” as a more long-term solution.
Italian organization Lai-momo, which works to increase public perception of migrant issues, is at the center of these efforts. President of Lai-momo, Andrea Marchesini Reggiani, stated that, “It's very difficult to work with migrants today, it's very difficult for them to integrate, because their numbers are very high.” Thus, providing migrants with skills they can use to start their own businesses may be a more feasible resolution to this issue.
Modeling in such a prestigious show was an effective way of introducing the problems migrants and refugees face to the public. Nigerian-American designer Wale Oyejide, who participated in the fashion show, expressed that, “Clothing is just a vehicle; I'm much more interested in discussing these issues... of migration, of borders being crossed. 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.”
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