Ethical Fashion & Alta Roma bring Africa to Rome. Photos & text by Glenn Belverio

Caribbean vibes from Stella Jean


Dear Shaded Viewers,

This will be my concluding post on the 23rd edition of AtlaRomAltaModa (although stay tuned for my reports on Roam Around Rome and Leon’s Place) and I wanted to say a few words about the event before we plunge into these divine clothes from the Sub-Sahara.

AltaRomAltaModa July 2013 was curated by Silvia Venturini Fendi and, like in past editions, was centered at the Complesso Monumentale Santo Spirito in Sassia, a Catholic hospital located not far from Vatican City which dates back to 727 A.D. (After it was destroyed by fire and pillage, it was rebuilt by Marchionne d’Arezzo in 1198 under the pontificate of Innocent III.)

While most of the catwalks took place at Santo Spirito, the wonderful thing about Alta Roma is that there are many off-site events, like the ones that took place at Palazzo Firenze, Hotel Locarno, the Circus Maximus and the Biblioteca Angelica. The effort is noticed, as Alta Roma is now being taken more seriously by the international fashion press: Suzy Menkes returned again to cover it for the IHT and the New York Times. We saw her at the A.I. Artisanal Intelligence event at the Biblioteca Angelica (the 17th-century library) and such was the multi-faceted nature of that event that she and I had completely different angles on it.

This was my 4th time covering Alta Roma for Diane (and my 6th trip to Rome) and I have to say it was definitely the best edition yet! With the colorful combination of locales, fashion, art, architecture, opera and more, it definitely made for an enjoyable and surprise-filled week indeed.



Susan Sabet, editor of Cairo-based fashion magazine Pashion, and I in the front row of the Ethical Fashion show. Our conversations swung wildly back and forth between giddy, giggly gossip and discussions about the very serious situation in Egypt.



Alessandra Carta, creative director of Carta e Costura in Milan, and the madcap Rebecca Voight, in “Annie Hall” mode.



In a nutshell, the concept of Ethical Fashion, a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organisation, at Alta Roma involved both European and African designers collaborating with women (“micro-artisans) in Africa to create their collections. The women are based in disadvantaged communities in East Africa, West Africa and Haiti. The initiative is designed to empower people to work their way out of poverty, as opposed to being exploited by a corporate brand in a sweat-shop hell hole.

This is very similar to what is also going on in Brazil. In 2011, during a trip to Fortaleza, I visited the workshops of Lindebergue Fernandes who produced his collection with the women of Conexão Solidária, which receives some of its funding from the Brazilian Federation of Workers.

Concerning the Ethical Fashion Initiative, founder Simone Cipriani has this to say:

“The fashion that we bring to Rome is the result of real work: dignified work, work that is paid decently. No program of social responsibility makes sense if people are not at the heart of the production processes, and fashion is no exception. Real fashion is created by people who love their work, perform it with passion and who can earn enough to live their lives to the fullest. As a result, fashion can serve as a vehicle for development, even in disadvantaged realities, but only if there is respect both for work and people.”

The Ethical Fashion Initiative also includes a system of “impact assessment”, which definesthe impact on people involved in the initiative. These assessments measture how the trade generated impacts on poverty levels, health, housing, sanitation, access to education and gender issues.

Power to the people! Now let’s look at some lovely frocks….



Four designers showed their collections at this edition of Ethical Fashion for Alta Roma at Santo Spirito in Sassia. The first was Christie Brown, a luxury womenswear brand based in Ghana. Founded by Aisha Obuobi in 2008, the brands modern use of African prints aims to satisfy “the stylish urge of that modern woman who seeks a true taste of Africa.”

For this collection, ’60s mod sihouettes were combined with tribal-infused fabrics handcrafted by local artisans, mixed with lush silk chiffon, linen, silk organza and satin crepe.





The Swiss brand Portenier Roth, made up of Sabine Portenier and Evelyne Roth, was launched in 2007. For this collection, “Croisere 14”, handmade textiles from Burkina Faso are combined with contrasting materials, like silk chiffon, satin, leather and knits.



We were all mad for the golden metallics of Kiki Clothing, another Ghana-based brand, founded by Titi Ademola, a Ghanaian/Nigerian fashion designer. Her collections encompass vital color, African prints and chic silhouettes. The ideas for for her clothes result from different cultures, but primarily from her Ghanaian/Nigerian heritage. For this collection, the materials used are Ankara, or wax-printed fabrics with a slight twist–a rich, shimmery gold finish.






Stella Jean, born in Rome and with Caribbean roots–as you can see from this collection! A former model, Ms. Jean presented her first collection in July 2011 and won the Italian Vogue “Who’s on Next” contest at Alta Roma. This multi-cultural collection, “Wax & Stripes” unveils the stories of distant traditions which use fashion as their universal translator. As she puts it: “It is a visionary exchange of views that convince us not to trust appearances alone.”

This collection was a wonderful way to start our Sunday in Rome–a shot of Caribbean energy! Arrrrrriba!








Thanks for reading.

Baci, besos, beijos,

Glenn  Belverio

Glenn Belverio

Glenn Belverio is a writer and New Yorker. He has been reporting for ASVOF since 2005 and currently works at The Museum of Modern Art as the Content Manager for MoMA Design Store.