Tuesday, September 29, 2015


Okay, Mimi Plange didn’t actually ride a bike to Milan, not even a Vespa, but the Ghanaian-born American designer did travel to the Italian city for Fashion Week (Sept. 23 - 28) and did launch a very stylish Fixie bicycle for the fifth anniversary of her eponymous brand this year.

Mimi Plange (Photo: GL Wood)
Plange journeyed to Milan to participate in the “Beat of Africa”, a showcase of designs by four acclaimed African stylists. She joined fellow designers MaXhosa by Laduma, Sindiso Khumalo and Sophie Zinga, who all featured looks from their Spring/Summer 2016 collections at the iconic Milanese store Buffi Boutique. The stylists also created a special gift item sold during Vogue Fashion’s “Night Out”, which launched the event.

Their looks have been on display at Biffi Boutique during the week for the shoppers on Corso Genova and for the fashion crowd to see.

Taking place for the third consecutive year, the "Beat of Africa" was organized by both Biffi Boutique and by the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), a flagship programme of the International Trade Centre, which is a joint agency of the United Nations and the World Trade Organization.

Simone Cipriani (Photo: McKenzie)
The EFI normally focuses on linking the world’s top fashion talents to marginalised artisans – mostly women – in East and West Africa, Haiti and the West Bank. But now it has expanded its range to include select African designers, who are being given support to reach a wider clientele.

The organization says its aim is to fully “enable Africa’s rising generation of fashion talent to forge environmentally sound, sustainable and fulfilling creative collaborations with local artisans.”

“There is a huge buzz around African fashion but scarce opportunities for real trade,” said Simone Cipriani, the director of EFI. “[We are] working on this and are soon launching a new mentoring scheme to enable designers to work alongside investors and business partners. This is a key component to grow and bring more work to Africa.”

Plange at her Biffi window.
For Plange, who’s based in New York, the ethical fashion movement is important for producing jobs as this can help countries to reduce poverty.

“It may not be how everyone sees things developing, but we have to start somewhere,” she said, adding that she is now sourcing products in Ethiopia for her brand’s handbags, and that she is “looking more” to Africa for fabrics.

Plange said that she considers herself an American designer because she lives and works in the United States, but she emphasizes that she is Ghana-born and inspired by African culture and lost African civilizations. “Our world is so global now, and there are so many channels to tell your story that there is no reason to limit ourselves with our creativity,” she said.

The designer started her luxury ready-to-wear brand in 2010, and since then has won several awards, including Designer of the Year, from Africa Fashion International and Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, Africa.

First Lady Michelle Obama, in Mimi Plange skirt. 
U.S. First Lady Michelle Obama wore one of her designs for an appearance on the television programme “The View”, and Plange was invited to the White House in 2014 for the first Celebration of Design reception.

“It was like an out-of-body experience, like a dream,” she recalls. “I don’t think there has been a first lady who has highlighted designers so much.”

Her products have been worn, too, by businesswomen and celebrities, with clients including Rihanna, Janelle Monae, Vanessa Hudgens, Estelle and Serena Williams.

Plange and the other designers in the “Beat of Africa” programme have received a great deal of support from the Italian fashion industry, according to the EFI.  For instance, South African knitwear brand MaXhosa by Laduma participated earlier this year in Pitti Immagine Uomo, one of the world’s largest menswear fairs, held in the Tuscan capital Florence.

MaXhosa by Laduma, at Pitti Immagine Uomo.
MaXhosa normally makes men’s clothing but because some of the styles appeal as well to women, designer Laduma Ngxokolo decided to launch a women’s collection; in Milan he also showcased some of his menswear looks.

Each designer additionally had the task of developing a special limited-edition fashion item for sale at the event. All proceeds from these items will be donated to a project selected by Vogue for 2015, the EFI said.

Now back to that Mimi Plange Fixie, or fixed-gear, bike (pictured above): it too is a limited edition creation, and came about because the designer and her business partner Ibrahim Ndoye decided to “have a bit of fun” this year.

“We always ride to the garment district on our bikes, so we wanted to create something that was useful and lightweight that you could carry down steps,” she said. “So we just let our imagination ride and we came up with this.” - Tasshon

The "Beat of Africa" designers at Biffi Boutique in Milan.