by Greta Holt, McKenzie Maurer, and Max Jacobs
Vicini D’Istanti is an organization that has impacted the Italian fashion community by giving opportunities to Italian migrants and connecting the diverse cultural practices and creative ideas of different communities. Each product of Vicini D’Istanti comes from a rich personal history and cultural background of the people who made it. The organization promotes integration, intercultural exchange, and sustainability through its progressive strategies.
Vicini D’Istanti was founded in 2017 in a detention center for refugees, with the objective to connect the Bologna community with migrants in Italy. The staff includes Italian and migrant employees, volunteers, and interns. Each product created in the atelier must be personal and come from the personal history and cultural background of the people who made it. The fabrics may come from donations, be imported from Africa, bought from selected Bologna companies, or even brought by private clients looking for specific adjustments. The atelier creates mostly clothes, but also accessories such as purses, masks, scarfs, and other products. Starting this year, the atelier Vicini D’Istanti entered the production of shoes.
Introduction to our project:
Vicini D’Istanti is relevant to the fashion world today through their sustainability practices, transnational approach to fashion, and their focus on inclusion and cultural diversity. Our group got a fantastic opportunity through this project to interview and connect with a designer from Vicini D’Istnati. Through this experience, we have been growing as students, learning and appreciating the actions this organization is consciously taking to make the necessary change in the industry. Our fashion class at Dickinson educated us on the fashion industry and how toxic it can be to individuals and our planet. Sadly, many are blind to the illusion the fashion industry places on consumers, not allowing them to see what is going on behind the scenes.
- How did you first arrive in Bologna?
- How did you find Vicini D’Istanti?
- In what ways has your experience at Vicini D’Istanti benefited you?
- What is the impact of Vicini D’Istanti on your community?
- How do you see the company expanding and reaching new audiences?
Integration and the Afro-Italian Community
Vicini D’Istanti, who on their website writes that they were “born in the room of a center of asylum seekers” is acutely aware of their connection with the Afro-Italian community. By encouraging their employees to draw inspiration from their cultural heritage, they inspire them to reach new heights of creativity, making their products unique and personal. The company connects with its employees’ communities by sourcing African fabrics and producing clothing for ceremonial gatherings, reinforcing its diverse ties. Through embracing the cultural identities of its employees, Vicini D’Istanti strengthens their international relationships, empowers their designers creatively, and forges connections with diverse communities.
In order to get a better understanding of the personal impact the organization has had on the migrant community, we connected with Vicini D’Istanti and recorded the stories of one of the migrant employees at the organization, a designer from Ghana named Victor who has been inspired and grown creatively in his work with the company. Victor, a migrant worker at Vicini D’Istanti, left Ghana and arrived in Italy in October 2018, attending a fashion school in Milan and receiving a Bachelor of Art Education, majoring in Painting and Sculpture. After graduating, he was searching for a job and came to Bologna for a job interview set up by a friend. In February 2020, Victor began to work for Vicini D’Istanti.
Victor has the opportunity to collaborate at Vicini D’Istanti with migrants from all over the world, working designers from Italy, Ghana, Ukraine, and Iran among others. Excited about these connections, Victor says: “it was quite interesting for me to really integrate with them and also understand their point of view, understand what they mean in so many stuff that we deal with.” These international collaborations benefit the employees, opening their minds to exciting new ideas and perspectives. “We feel a lot of ideas, of how things are being perceived in different ways. This is such a feeling that I have never found before and experienced.”
Vicini D’Istanti stresses the importance of tapping into one’s cultural heritage. Victor has found creative inspiration from combining his own roots with Italian culture. He continues: “Paying attention to the Italian tastes and really pushing my tastes as an African to mix the two is quite a difficult thing for me to do, and starting a journey for me as a creative that I need to find the mutual point where these things can be accepted. It has changed my way of thinking, my way of doing a lot of things because where I am, the laboratory, it gives an opportunity to explore in different languages what you, as a creative, understand and want to put across. So, this is something which has really influenced me a lot from my times working with them and has really changed who I am as a human being a lot.”
Additionally, Vicini D’Istanti supports the communities of their workers, in Victor’s case, the Afro-Italian community. In Italy, the Afro-Italian community is underrepresented; “they have no voice” according to Victor. By hiring and engaging with the Afro-Italian community Vicini D’Istanti is actively antiracist, particularly because the fashion world is white-dominated and often exclusionary to black models and designers. Victor feels this, saying: “if you want something from us you have to deal with me, you have to deal with the tailor who is black…People are beginning to understand this and also try to move away from the ignorant way of living to understand what is around them.”
Working in Italy creating fashion has allowed Victor to contribute to his community. He is a case study of how multicultural collaboration is relevant to the world of fashion today, providing diverse inspiration, creative vibrancy, and valuing local resources. Victor’s strong connection to his Afro-Italian community empowers them to further integrate with Italian society while maintaining their rich cultural heritage. “Seeing me in this position gives them the hope that there is a kind of a voice for them and also there’s someone who understands their need, there’s someone who knows who they are.”Vincini D’Istanti demonstrates the beneficial social impact of inclusive practices that forge bonds over borders, an example of the kind of company that the fashion world must value in society today.
Sustainability & Slow Fashion:
Rather than adopting the technology available today to manufacture and have a faster retail turnover, Vicini D’Istanti focuses on slow fashion and the quality of their products. Slow fashion is a choice that benefits fair labor salaries for employees, and products are made out of better quality materials; therefore contributing to a longer lifespan. Slow fashion recognizes the wastefulness in fast fashion and the harm it causes the environment. The design, production, and consumption at Vincini D’Istanti follows a slow fashion model. Vincini D’Istanti is a local resource for what they produce, along with the impact they have socially. They practice sustainability and slow fashion, being conscious of the materials they use for their products. What will make the company succeed and grow in the coming years is its transparency with its customers and the excellent quality they ensure their customers receive from their products. When asking Victor, “How do you see the company expanding and reaching new audiences” Victor touches on the durability of the product and how it has received lots of attention. Victor shares with us the company’s use of technology and social media as a tool to help connect them with the public sharing first hand their design & production process.
The importance of TRANSNATIONAL FASHION today:
- Cultural Integration:
- The organization allows its creatives to integrate the fashion “taste” that they are most familiar with, with Italian fashion “taste”, adding significant value and meaning to the garments/products
- Straying away from Italian fashion “norm”
- Variety of Backgrounds:
- Designers who work at Vicini D’Istanti come from many different countries, therefore the ideas generated at the organization are extremely diverse and unique from one another.
- Exposes Vicini D’Istanti designers not only to Italian culture but to each other’s cultures, languages, perceptions as well as ideas (which they most likely would not have been exposed to prior to coming to Vicini D’Istanti)
- Provides the market with something new and different
We have enjoyed this project because we want nothing more than to give an organization like Vicini D’Istanti the voice and platform to be heard and further provoke positive change in the fashion industry. With this exposure, we hope to shed light on topics that go unnoticed. It is important for us as a society to acknowledge the positive impact and applaud those who adopt a sustainable approach to fashion. We thank Victor for taking the time to answer our interview questions, help shed light on the organization, and share with us his touching personal story. We are extremely moved by the work Vicini D’Istanti continues to do and wish them all the best with their future success. Companies are given a choice, and Vicini D’Isntani is making the choice that will best benefit the community at large.