Refugees Are People Too – Fashion Show Highlights Refugee Crisis

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The next Pitti Uomo exhibition is opening to the public again, running from the 14th to the 17th June 2016, but who could forget about that iconic display of winter trends from Florence, Italy in January 2016? The Men’s Fashion Show showed some beautiful models with plenty of Africa-inspired designs, but it wasn’t just the fashion designs that caught the eye of the media.

The collection, named Generation Africa, was inspired by the colors, shapes, and designs of the country of the continent, and the native garments Africans are known to wear. Lukhanyo Mdinigi x Nicholas Coutts, AKJP, U.Mi-1, and kiré Jones four designers of African origin, were behind the show. Although the designs definitely stole the show, it was three models who created such a controversial stir, because they are asylum seekers from Africa.

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They’re believed to be in their twenties coming from Mali and Gambia. The three male models must be kept anonymous because of the legalities involved. In May 2014, the three men arrived in Italy on a boat from Arica, along with a reported 140,000 others asylum seekers who entered Italy from the northern parts of Africa alone in 2015 (reported by Reuters).

Rather than looking at the refugee situation in the same light as many others, the organizers behind the Pitti Uomo show decided to make a political statement, offering training centers for individuals to be taught the art of fashion and other skills they could later go home and use to set up their own businesses. Simone Cipriani, the founder of Ethical Fashion Initiative, said, “We also want to show that migrants are a resource,” choosing to put a silver-lining spin on the refugee crisis currently taking most of Europe by storm.

The founder also went on to say that work-training programs are offered to refugees and asylum-seekers, teaching them what they’d need to know about the fashion business and industry. They could then be able to use the skills to start and run their own fashion-related business, and maybe even go on ahead to teach others who wouldn’t have access to the opportunities.

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The four big designers behind the show chose the three models and ensured they were treated the same as the rest of the ‘male models,’ in a bid to welcome them into a society they were trying to call their home. The asylum seekers showed off high-quality garments with exceptional and individual styles and designs, nestled in among the other models. They were dressed in classic African colors, greens, browns, and reds, in overcoats, cargo shirts, and intricately-designed hats.

The idea behind anonymously hiding them in between the other male models within the show was an idea promoted by Walé Oyéjidé, Ikiré Jones designer, who explained that an asylum seeker would be perceived completely differently if he were dressed in a nice suit. He wanted people to see the refugees as “equal human beings.”

Using art, fashion, and design to make a political statement is nothing new. It enables people to stand up for what they believe in and brings awareness to causes that might otherwise be swept under the carpet. It might not seem like the biggest political statement in the world, theming a fashion show and using it as a blank canvas, but it definitely goes to show that when a group of people comes together to raise awareness and to help a cause they believe in, something can be done. Thousands of people all over the world now know about the refugee crisis crippling northern Africa, and perhaps now have a better image of them, better than the one we’ve been led to see in the media for sure.

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Some of the biggest and well-known names in fashion have opted to use the runway as their stage to make big statements. Vivienne Westwood, being just one of them, focused the audience’s attention on climate change, and has since gone on to launch a website by the name of “Climate Revolution.” The site brings to light the latest news of the ever-changing environment.

Another great designer who uses the runway for something other than just fashion is Karl Lagerfield. Often seen campaigning for equal rights for women, Lagerfield is even going as far as letting his models hold signs in the street at the 2014 Chanel Fashion Show. The models displayed slogans such as “Women’s Rights are More than Alright”.

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No designer went quite as far as Kerby Jean-Reynold, who used his catwalk to highlight the issue of police brutality in September of 2015. Covering the model’s clothing and shoes with red paint, the look was meant to replicate blood, drawing influences from the movement of Black Lives Matter. He went further to include names of those who had recently been killed as a result of police brutality, and also included powerful messages with slogans such as “I can’t breathe.”

This latest Generation Africa show is another way designers choose to use the tools at their disposal to raise awareness of some of the most important issues facing our generation. It’s crucial for artists such as musicians, painters, designers, cartoonists and more to use their public platforms for more than just showcasing their talent. When you consider that the fashion industry is worth a staggering $1.2 TRILLION dollars, what better place to start to hopefully inspire change in current events and political / environmental issues?

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