Now in its second edition, the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative promoted style and social issues at its Pitti Uomo Immagine show

African designers made their mark both aesthetically and politically at Pitti Uomo Immagine in Florence last week as part of the Generation Africa show. Co-hosted by Fondazione Pitti Discovery and the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), emerging talents Ikiré Jones, Lukhanyo Mdingi x Nicholas Coutts, AKJP and U.Mi-1 each debuted their AW16 collections at the influential menswear event. Meanwhile the show’s organisers aimed to highlight the issue of illegal migration to Italy by partnering with Lai-momo, a co-operative supporting asylum seekers in the country, to include three refugees from the Gambia and Mali among the model line-up. 

“Africa is one of today’s creative poles and this show proves that African designers speak about art, life and innovation. At the same time, we are in an age in which many Africans come to Europe as migrants. We believe in a programme that enables them to work in the value chain of fashion,” said EFI founder Simone Cipriani, adding that the UN-backed organisation is setting up a training centre for 30 refugees to work in the textile industry in Italy or be equipped to set up businesses back home.

Ikiré Jones’ collection was especially poignant, drawing as it did on ”stories of those who have crossed oceans and borders in search of a better home,” explained designer Walé Oyéjidé. “By casting these migrants in an elegant light I hope we can brighten perceptions and remind ourselves that such misfortune could befall any of us.” He showed blazers, biker jackets, blanket coats and granddad shirts over cropped trousers with bold prints lending a dollop of exuberance.  

Gozi Ochonogor of U.Mi-1 explored Yoruba tribal markings and textiles. Smart striped and checked suits in sombre shades of navy, brown and black featured intricate pleating and were paired with utilitarian outerwear. “U.Mi-1’s ethos is unity and dialogue. Our collections express Nigerian style and culture while incorporating elements of Japanese and British aesthetics. We want everyone to identify a bit of themselves in our clothes,” Ochonogor told Nataal.

A first time collaboration, AW16 brought Lukhanyo Mdingi’s flair for minimal menswear together with and Nicholas Coutts’ handcrafted weaving and the results were scrumptious. Military jackets, jumpsuits, boxy tops, fine wool layers and cord coats in earthy red, khaki and grey were on trend while oversized belted scarves piled on authentic textures. “The collection stems from tangibility and evokes fabrications that embody feeling,” the young South African designers chime. “We conceptualise pieces that exude timeless elegance.” 

"By casting these migrants in an elegant light
I hope we can brighten perceptions and
remind ourselves that such misfortune could
befall any of us"

Finally, established Cape Town duo Keith Henning and Jody Paulsen aka AKJP were inspired by Durban’s landscapes and Herbie Hancock’s rhythmic funk song Watermelon Man, specifically its whistling sounds reminiscent of Hindewhu singing common to the pygmies of central Africa. “We have combined elements of dressing for the wilderness with sophisticated urban sportswear,” they say. “The collection mimics nature’s ability to make one feel calm, centred and grounded and marries the feeling of an African summer to the practicalities of a European winter.” Graphic plant prints and appliqué lent a stealthy camouflaging effect to oversized t-shirts, anoraks, wraps and trousers with peep-a-boo knees.