New initiative promotes diversity across sectors in Italy

The founder of the Afro Fashion Association in Italy says she is launching awards recognizing the achievements of minorities in Italian society, to promote greater diversity and inclusion

By Colleen Barry, Associated Press

MILAN — The founder of the Afro Fashion Association in Italy on Thursday said she is launching awards recognizing the achievements of minorities in Italian society, to promote greater diversity and inclusion.

The first edition of the Black Carpet Awards will premier during Milan Fashion Week in February, sponsored by Instagram and Conde Nast.

Michelle Francine Ngonmo said she was inspired by a note she received from Virgil Abloh, the late fashion designer and founder of the Off-White label, recognizing her work promoting people of color in Italian fashion. It said simply: “I see you.”

“I know there are a lot of projects here in Italy that are doing real things, and not being seen,’’ Ngonmo told The Associated Press. “Why not celebrate them, all of them? When you celebrate someone, you empower them, you open minds and you talk about what diversity is.”

Ten awards will recognize leaders who promote inclusion, diversity and equity through culture, creativity, community, legacy and entrepreneurship. Five will be chosen by a jury, five will be popular people’s choice awards.

The first edition will focus on Italy, but Ngonmo said her goal is to make the awards global.

The recipients will be from under-represented communities — including people of color, people with disabilities and the LGBTQ community — who work in sectors such as fashion, design, art, food, music, technology, business, sport and cinema.

Ngonmo in 2015 founded the non-profit Afro Fashion Association in Italy to mentor people with multicultural backgrounds and work with companies to promote diversity and inclusion. She is also of the co-founders of the We Are Made in Italy (WAMI) campaign launched on the heels of the Black Lives Matters movement with Italian-Haitian designer Stella Jean and Italy-based African-American designer Edward Buchanan.

WAMI has launched three groups of designers of color within Milan Fashion Week since 2020 and has promoted a database of more than 3,000 people from multicultural backgrounds trained in fashion as a resource for companies wishing to become more diverse.

Ngonmo said she chose the name Black Carpet Awards not to focus on the Black community, but rather to emphasize the color black as “the sum of all colors.”