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Lukhanyo Mdingi x Nicholas Coutts backstage at Ge
Lukhanyo Mdingi x Nicholas Coutts backstage at Generation AfricaPhotography Trevor Stuurman

Asylum seekers walk in Florence fashion show

The three men took to the runway at the Generation Africa show at Pitti Uomo

Over the last few days, in the brief interim between London Collections: Men and Milan Men’s Fashion Week, Florence has played host to Pitti Uomo and with it, influential press and buyers from around the world. In a surprise but poignant and timely move, one show – Generation Africa – enlisted three asylum seekers to walk.

While the models’ names have not been disclosed for legal reasons, it is understood that they come from the Gambia and Mali, and that their ages range between 19 and 27. According to a statement, they were cast “to raise awareness on migration” and “to give them an opportunity to earn a wage and be part of an empowering international event celebrating creativity from Africa.”

The show itself featured four African-designer labels – AKJP, Ikiré Jones, Lukhanyo Mdinigi x Nicholas Coutts and U.Mi-1 – as part of an initiative to promote young and talented designers from the continent.

Speaking on the models in an interview with AFP, the designer behind Ikiré Jones, Nigerian-born Walé Oyéjidé, spoke of his belief in fashion’s power to change people’s perceptions. “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,” he said.

“Clothing is just a vehicle, I'm much more interested in discussing these issues...of migration, of borders being crossed,” he went on to say.

However, this was part of a much wider effort to tackle the migrant crisis (140,000 migrants arrived in Italy in 2015, reports AFP). “We want to show that migrants are a resource,” said the head and founder of the Ethical Fashion Initiative Simone Cipriani backstage. “We are setting up a training centre for refugees and migrants in Italy to work in the industry of fashion and be enabled to go back home and set up their own businesses there.”