Young migrants given jobs at luxury labels thanks to Italian Fashion Chamber initiative
The Italian Fashion Chamber has launched the second edition of “Fashion Deserves the World”, a scheme helping migrants and refugees enter the Italian fashion industry, in the areas of design and manufacturing. The launch was the opportunity for CNMI to assess the scheme, first introduced in June 2021 with the support of the Mygrants start-up and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency. Three talented young individuals, who took part in the initiative’s first edition and are now working at top luxury labels, tell their story.
Last year, CNMI picked 15 candidates out of nearly 1,000 applicants, all of them migrants or refugees under the age of 35 who were interested in a career in fashion and spoke at least a little Italian, enabling them to benefit from specific training and be offered internships with fashion labels. Fendi, Gucci, Valentino, Moncler, Zegna and the Aeffe group were the labels involved in the scheme.
The 15 selected candidates, hailing from Africa, the Middle East and Russia, were first given a basic online training course, personalised according to their abilities, and were then able to acquire more in-depth expertise via an internship. Some of them were offered a further internship, others decided to continue their journey by creating their own company. A handful were hired on open-ended contracts or had their contract renewed for another six months. Among them, Ghizlane, Ahmed and Jennifer, who have realised their dream, changing their lives.
Skills and life paths
Ghizlane, 27 and the daughter of immigrants of Moroccan origin, grew up in Tuscany. There are embroiderers and weavers in her family - her mother made carpets - and there was no doubt that she would opt to pursue a career in fashion. “I have a diploma in surveying. I managed to then do a design course at the Istituto Burgo’s subsidiary in Pisa. Thanks to the [CNMI] project, I was able to fulfil my dream. I did an internship at Gucci, where for six months I familiarised myself with different professions,” she said. Ghizlane was then sent to Gucci’s factory in Novara, where Kering’s flagship brand makes prototypes for its products, and where she is now working in the couture atelier.
Egyptian Ahmed, 31, came to Italy in 2018 on a tourist visa, without knowing Italian or anything about the country. An economics graduate who had been working for a major international company for five years, he had to leave his country after the Arab Spring uprisings. He thought he would quickly find an equivalent job in Italy, but he was soon disappointed. “I was quickly made to understand that it wasn’t possible. I started learning the language and began working in a pizzeria, first washing dishes, then as a cook assistant. After three years, I finally got my residency permit,” he said.
The pandemic forced him to stop working, but he then found a job as a warehouse-delivery worker at the Milan Stock Exchange, on a 3 am to 9 am shift. At the same time, he applied to the CNMI scheme. He was selected, and began an internship at Fendi, the LVMH-owned Italian luxury label, while keeping his job at the stock exchange. “I was super happy to get my foot in the door of this sophisticated sector. After various internships, I was hired on a permanent basis in the finance department, and I now work at [Fendi’s] headquarters in Rome, at the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana,” he said beaming.
Jennifer, 36, from Nigeria, reached Lampedusa, a small island off the Sicilian coast, in 2013, after crossing the Mediterranean on a makeshift vessel. A traumatic experience, which she doesn't want to talk about. “I'm a refugee. I started working for a collective, while studying to become a social educator. I’ve always wanted to work in fashion, but there are no scholarships for fashion schools. [Courses] are very expensive and I’m here all by myself,” said Jennifer, who started taking sewing and model-making courses on YouTube.
“The opportunity offered by [CNMI] came at a time when I wanted to change the course of my life. I was lucky. I was offered an internship by the Aeffe group, in San Giovanni in Marignano. Initially, they helped me by finding accommodation, then they hired me on a one-year fixed-term contract. I work as a seamstress, making prototypes for Moschino. It’s just great,” she said with a wide grin.
“These stories show that we need to do more! We launched this scheme to stimulate change and promote good practices. It’s an innovative project, and one that works. We have found passionate, talented people,” said CNMI President Carlo Capasa, speaking at the conference presenting the initiative. “One hears much talk about the manual skills of Italian artisans. We want to pass this expertise on to everyone, and turn Italy into Europe’s Silicon Valley of fashion,” he added.
The new edition of “Fashion Deserves the World” is starting this week. In March-April 2023, it will produce a new crop of 15 talented individuals, this time focusing on the craft trades typical of Italy, paying special attention to those that are most sought after by fashion labels, such as tailors, model-makers and embroiderers.
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