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Exclusive Interview: Simone Cipriani of the Ethical Fashion Initiative


By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Simone Cipriani is something of a visionary. As the founder and director of the Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI), a program of the International Trade Centre, a joint agency of the United Nations and World Trade Organization, he has enabled impoverished artisans to connect with the global fashion chain for fairly paid work that has improved their livelihoods.

The EFI has been instrumental in boosting a new generation of rising fashion talent in Africa and Haiti by encouraging luxury fashion brands to partner with these fledgeling designers. For example, Italian catwalk star Stella Jean’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection shown at Giorgio Armani’s Teatro Armani during Milan Fashion Week marked the start of her collaboration with the Ethical Fashion Initiative, and since then, she has  incorporated hand-woven fabrics from Burkina Faso made by women artisans part of the Ethical Fashion Initiative network.

Today, the Ethical Fashion Initiative has established a network of self-managed, artisanal groups that work together making up an extended ‘multi-craft workshop’, which sprawls across a vast geographical areas, enabling fashion brands to design, produce and sell ethically manufactured slow fashion goods handmade by artisans.

The Ethical Fashion Initiative has also been raising awareness on responsible fashion issues through films, some of which have been lauded at the ‘Cannes of the fashion film’, the La Jolla International Fashion Film Festival (LJIFFF). Our editor, Chere Di Boscio, has served as a judge for the Festival for five years, and was thrilled when the EFI partnered with LJIFFF, especially as this added a new category to judge for Best Fashion Documentary, as most of these focus on the ethics and sustainability of fashion brands.

Here, in this exclusive interview, Simone Cipriani shares his views on how the fashion film could be a powerful tool for changing perceptions in the industry.

Most films have depicted fashion negatively, as we have seen with The Devil Wears Prada and The Neon Demon. Do you think recent fashion films are changing the perspective?

What I think is that we now need to see real films on the screens: films that use fashion as a vehicle to pass a message of social change.

Why do you think it’s important for movies and fashion to work hand in hand?

By working together, we have the strength to create awareness in the general public on social issues behind the surface of fashion. 

What was the first project of EFI connected to films in fashion?

We’ve always used videos to communicate the stories behind the products. Our very first films (you can see them on our youtube channel) were part of the Africa Community Bags, a project in collaboration with Coop Italia. There were 9 tote bags involving decorations made by 9 different artisan groups in Kenya and Uganda and we made a 1min video for each of them. Our quality of work has improved a lot since then, but this is where we started!

What was the response in the fashion world to the short films about Westwood and Teller’s first trip to Kenya?

Atonement: they didn’t think something like that was possible!

How did you become involved with the so called “The Cannes of The Fashion Film World,” i.e. La Jolla Fashion Film Festival?

Because it is something very genuine and healthy, the festival has a real willingness to change the way in which fashion and the film industry work together. There is a lot of integrity in the work of Fred Sweet, the founder.  


Do you think fashion film should stick to documenting the designer’s work or it could also be effective through the narrative and experimental genre?

It should be a film, a real film.

In 2012 you expanded the scope of the Ethical Fashion Initiative to include a program aimed at helping designers from West Africa to expand their established businesses across the region and also to have the possibility of export to Europe. Have you in mind to extend this to fashion movies, to help blooming filmmakers? 

It would be beautiful to do so, of course!


How important is it for these two mediums (cinema and fashion) to interact to spread awareness on sustainable development?

It is of the utmost importance.


Rosario Dawson is an excellent example of a trait d’union between film and fashion: the actress launched Studio One Eighty Nine, an online platform dedicated to creatives with a mission to promote African culture and African-inspired content. Leonardo DiCaprio is also a very strong advocate of sustainability. How do you think Hollywood will influence the world of ethical fashion on the long run?

I cannot say anything on this subject just now. What I know is that there is a lot of social engagement among actors: see the good work of Sean Penn in Haiti. This could help the film industry to talk about fashion from a social perspective 

What are the Ethical Fashion Initiatives future projects as regards fashion in film?
We have been working for one and a half year on a project with the Italian video artist Yuri Ancarani, who interpreted our work in Haiti for his perspective as an artist. You will know more about this in Sept. 

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