Global First Ladies, Tastemakers Talk About How Fashion Diversity Could Change The World (PHOTOS)

First ladies from around the world, diplomats, tastemakers and fashion insiders gathered on Thursday in New York for Fashion 4 Development’s First Ladies Annual Luncheon and fashion show.

The event, which coincided with the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, is a celebration of diversity and global economics through fashion. F4D’s purpose is “to harness the power of the fashion and beauty industries and implement creative strategies for sustainable economic growth, wellness and independence of communities worldwide and the preservation of culture through the expression of fashion,” according to its mission statement.

Held at the Pierre Hotel on the Upper East Side and now in its third year, the luncheon welcomed Vogue Italia Editor-in-Chief Franca Sozzani; Yoo (Ban) Soon-taek, wife of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon; media maven Tina Brown; Princess Ameerah Al-Taweel of Saudi Arabia; and fashion designer Donna Karan, among others.

“We’re having conversations about the celebration and the creativity of the cultures of the world -- and to bring the awareness to the consumer,” Karan, who started the Urban Zen Foundation, told The Huffington Post. “We call it conscience consumerism, we call it a soulful economy. But [we want] to be able to protect, care and celebrate the wisdom that comes from our cultures from all around the world.”

Evie Evangelou, founder and president of F4D, recognizes that the philanthropy of Karan and other leaders in the fashion world works toward the same goal.

“We’ve been walking in similar paths and we need to join forces to make it stronger -- and that’s what we’re doing right now,” Evangelou told The Huffington Post.

F4D is attempting to achieve a partnership between diplomacy and fashion. Evangelou is using the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, and Every Woman, Every Child, a U.N. initiative spearheaded by the secretary-general, to pinpoint the fashion industry's efforts in areas like sustainability practices, wellness, economic growth and culture preservation.

"There is a lot that can be gained through fashion by every country in terms of its economy," Folorunsho Alakija, founder of the Rose of Sharon Foundation and F4D's Angel Award recipient, told The Huffington Post. "Too many countries have been looking to other industries and forgetting that they're losing a lot of money. Fashion is extremely powerful."

Alakija, who was named the richest black woman in the world by an African business magazine, is doing her part to ensure Africa is using the power of the fashion industry. Once a renowned fashion designer and editor, she has pushed for more recognition of African designers outside the continent with the help of African Fashion International and the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria, which both work to encourage, support and provide resources for African designers.

As diversity continues to be a buzz word in fashion, eyes are not only on the runways but also behind the scenes when it comes to fostering more people of color in the industry.

"It's important to have diversity everywhere. Today, we're a global world," Sozzani told The Huffington Post. "It can't just be about Italy and France. Why not Africa? Why not Bangladesh?"

Mentoring designers is key, Sozzani added. The editor-in-chief, who's been working with F4D for the past three years, has traveled to Africa several times to meet with the continent's up-and-coming designers.



Fashion 4 Development "First Ladies Luncheon" 2013