International Mountain Day: Spotlighting cultural heritage and ethical fashion


Under the theme “Women move mountains”, global celebrations of International Mountain Day (IMD) 2022 began at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Headquarters on Friday, 9 December with opening remarks from high-level guests followed by a fashion show by Stella Jean.

Celebrating IMD at FAO, this event spotlighted proven examples of how the Mountain Partnership Products Initiative, financially supported by the Italian Development Cooperation, empowers women-led business to scale-up and strengthen local economies.

The FAO Director-General, QU Dongyu, along with recently appointed Mountain Partnership Goodwill Ambassador Nikki Santos, Executive Director at the Aspen Institute Center for Native American Youth, and Maria Ubach, Minister of Foreign Affairs for the Government of Andorra, highlighted the importance of protecting mountain areas and their significance to sustainable development.

The session was moderated by Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General and Chair of the FAO Women’s Committee. The audience also heard from Bruno Archi, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Italy to FAO; Julio Eduardo Martinetti Macedo, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Peru to FAO; Taalai Bazarbaev, Permanent Representative of the Kyrgyz Republic to FAO; Aqsa Nawaz, Consul General of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in Milan; and Jean Bony Alexandre, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Haiti to FAO.

Women move mountains

Nikki Santos, Executive Director Aspen Institute Center for Native American Youth and Mountain Partnership Goodwill Ambassador, said, “To create solutions for sustainable mountain development, we must bring all voices, especially the voices of Indigenous Peoples and matriarchs. We must ensure this cultural knowledge continues to be passed to our children, as my mothers and grandmothers have passed down to me. They have entrusted in us this responsibility, and as future ancestors, we have an obligation to our children.”

Designing ethical and sustainable fashion

Fashion can play a significant role in empowering rural and marginalized women in mountain communities and promoting their economic independence, seeing women as agents of change while also reducing climate emissions from their operations.

The Mountain Partnership Secretariat began its journey into the world of fashion during the first COVID-19 lockdown. From what started as an initiative working with smallholder mountain producers to improve sustainability of their farming systems, it developed into collaborations between mountain women artisans and Italian-Haitian fashion designer Stella Jean.

Two years and two collections later, a fashion show with Stella Jean, organized at the FAO HQ on the occasion of IMD, marked the launch of the first FAO initiative fully dedicated to ethical and sustainable fashion: Fashion for Fragile Ecosystems.

Giorgio Grussu, Project Coordinator of this initiative, said, “FAO and fashion might seem like distant worlds upon first glance, but if we think about how it takes almost 3 000 litres of water to produce one cotton T-shirt, suddenly we realize how close our two worlds really are. The Fashion for Fragile Ecosystems project initiative links cultural heritage and traditional design with ethical contemporary fashion. It enhances local livelihoods and access to markets, along with fair compensation to producers of these products.”

Among Mountain Partnership members, there are many small communities of women producing natural fibres, textiles, and handicrafts to sell in local markets. These communities act as the custodians of naturally circular economies and of practices that have been passed down from generation to generation for centuries, if not longer, producing some of the highest quality products with the lowest environmental impact.

Collaborating with women in mountain communities

Earlier this year, Stella Jean travelled to the village of Tolconi, located at 4 800 metres above sea level in the Peruvian Andes, to work with the women artisans and alpaqueras of Illiary Threads4Dreams. The women still raise alpacas the traditional way, preserving the herd’s natural colour variations of black, grey, brown, and white and this way conserving alpaca biodiversity. However, the global alpaca market does not value the varied colours of alpaca fleece because it follows industry trends that prefer white fibre only. In addition, due to the many intermediaries, the prices the women receive for their raw material are low.

Together with Illiary Threads4Dreams, Stella Jean created her newest fashion collection for 2023-2024, bridging her knowledge of Italian design with the cultural legacy and heritage of these mountain women, who are now gaining the place they deserve in the international market. These designs were showcased during the fashion show, directed by Maurizio Passeri.

Watch the full show via webcast here.
Press release by FAO

Women move mountains: artisans collaborate with fashion designer Stella Jean in the Peruvian Andes
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Photo: ©FAO/Alessandra Benedetti

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