There are about 10 to 12 million Roma people in Europe, making it the largest ethnic minority. Despite the efforts of the EU institutions and other international and European organisations, Roma people still face discrimination and racism. The social and economic gaps between Roma and non-Roma have become wider, which far-right extremist movements, xenophobic groups and populist politicians play up to their advantage. They are often segregated and cannot access basic rights such as healthcare, education and employment (source: ENAR). The negative stereotyping that the Roma population suffer from leads to their exclusion and dehumanisation.
In 2010, Erika Varga and her sister Helena decided to tackle this issue in an innovative way: they founded ROMANI Design, the first Roma fashion studio using fashion and design to create bridges between Roma and non-Roma. Its aim is two-fold:
Break stereotypes and popularise the Roma culture and community (by reinterpreting the traditional patterns in a modern urban-wear way, and using fashion to give a voice to Roma culture), and
Serve the cultural and economic needs of the Roma society (by creating employment for disadvantaged Roma women and train them as seamstresses).
The brand is well-known in Hungary and has reached international recognition, participating in Fashion Weeks around the world. The design studio is also a learning centre for disadvantaged Roma children, where different workshops are being developed and take place, discussing Roma identity, heritage and culture. ROMANI has received a lot of positive feedback and reactions to their creations, shedding new and positive light on Roma culture and community by defining Roma fashion as a modern, valuable contribution to the mainstream design industry.