Making it in Milan: Getting Biffi with Christie Brown and Stella Jean

While in Milan last week to see four of Ghana’s most promising fashion brands showcase at IED Moda (which we blogged about here), we promised the Ethical Fashion Initiative team that we wouldn’t leave Milan without going to see the Biffi Boutique on Corsa Genova to see a couple of the more established brands EFI work with, Christie Brown and Stella Jean.

Known as early supporters of many emerging turned powerhouse brands including Kenzo, Yohji Yamamoto and for their authentic statement pieces, Biffi is a Milano fashion destination in itself so walking through Biffi’s doors and seeing Christie Brown’s light and vibrant summer dresses hanging delicately next to Dior, Fendi and Marc Jacobs felt incredible. Not just because we spent the next hour trying on everything in sight, but because it felt special to see African design being appreciated internationally simply for being beautiful, interesting and exquisitely made.

Here in London people often say to us “I love African fashion but I don’t know where I would wear it.” Yet trying on Christie Brown’s SS14 collection in store, we couldn’t think of many places we wouldn’t wear her pieces, whose warm and natural patchwork patterns were instantly uplifting.

Twirling the store in the light dresses they instantly felt perfect for hot London days of meetings with a blazer for professional measure, strolling around Brooklyn chanelling our inner Solange (print princess not elevator ninja), or for a bit of midnight cool at the beach parties we’ve been promised on our upcoming trip to Accra in August. Christie Brown has truly found the right mix of global woman and ‘taste of Africa’.

Seeing these products in a store in Milan is not about thinking that international validation is what makes us good enough, but as an opportunity for African design to contribute to a global creative conversation in a way that we own. In a way that breaks open expectations of what African fashion is supposed to look like in the minds of the people who look at the labels inside the dresses and are perhaps pleasantly surprised to find its a Ghanaian brand.

Probably because Biffi display it just like any other brand in store. More often than not when we see African products on sale internationally it’s as pity products where customers are urged to buy them to achieve a charitable end. This collaboration with Biffi on the other hand as EFI put it is #notcharityjustwork. Christie Brown is competing globally on design and quality, yet their success creates meaningful work in the communities in which they are based the same way buying Hermes does for artisans in Paris.

We’re also big fans of Stella Jean and since watching her Spring Summer 2014 Collection live in the grand Armani Teatro during Milan Fashion Week last year, we’ve been waiting to get our hands on her playful pieces ourselves. Through the Ethical Fashion Initiative Stella sourced some of her materials from Burkina Faso in West Africa, working into a collection bursting with colour, pattern and texture in her dresses and skirts.

Not content with a menswear and children’s wear collection too, but Stella is now also working with the Ethical Fashion Initiative to produce a jewellery collection with artisans in Haiti. Her statement necklaces are filled with multicoloured glass crystal embellishments, chain link design and signature patterned fabric backs to give us some next level glam. What more could a girl ask for?

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