In 2020, we were a nation in turmoil: a pandemic, a culture-shifting racial reckoning, and—as a byproduct—a fashion industry reconciling with flaws that included racism, classism, and sizeism. While designers, retailers, and labels scrambled to reimagine their future, Hanifa—an emerging brand that launched in 2011—released its first Pink Label Congo collection (an ode to its founder’s home country) via a 3-D virtual runway. It not only showcased the brand’s unique silhouettes and signature maximalism, but marked an emergence into the world of fashion-meets-tech. The result was a viral collection that communicated boldly that a new era—one where Black women were at the fore of ingenuity—was on the horizon.
Two years after the viral collection and eleven years after launching her brand, Anifa Mvuemba, Hanifa’s Congolese founder and 2021 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Grant recipient, is still moving with the same innovation, with an eye to offering clothing that’s even more inclusive. Her 2022 collection, “Live Out Loud,” premiered via a runway film and communicated to the industry that that this was a brand ready to make its mark in the global luxury market. Or, as she puts it: “My latest collection really lets me say ‘No, I’m really doing this.’”
Here, Mvuemba talks about the challenges of working in fashion, what’s next, who she’d love to see wear her designs, and more.
It’s easy to say ‘I’m going to create an inclusive brand.’ It’s not easy to actually do it. What was the pushback and challenges you’ve faced?
Instead of giving [me] the opportunity just as an opportunity, you’re giving it to a ‘Black designer.’ Why can’t it just be a designer? I think for me, that started to feel like just another way of segregating us. That’s something that still annoys me within the industry.
You favor using intense color and feminine shapes that feel exuberant and bold. Who or what inspires you?
I would definitely say African tailoring. I see it often, because I’m African, in my mom and my aunts and just the culture. If you think of Nigerian weddings and African weddings in general, there’s so much custom attire. It inspires me by how creative it is, the structure. This is also important for Hanifa, as we make sure we’re making women feel beautiful, comfortable, and making sure that they look good and feel like these pieces were literally made to fit their body.
Speaking of drawing inspiration from Nigerian weddings, could we ever see an African-inspired bridalwear collection?
Of course! We’re actually working on our bridal collection.
What makes your design process different from what was your there when you were growing up?
I would say about 90% of my team is made up of Black women. When we’re in the design studio, we’re all different shapes and sizes so while we’re creating with samples and patterns, we’re all trying it on to see how we feel. Our customers are literally women you see every day. Making sure we’re thinking about that in the beginning stages of creating is important. It translates really well when we see the outcome, when we see it on the runway and when we see our customers that are in the clothes.
Define what the Hanifa girl looks and feels like to you in your latest Live Out Loud collection.
I think the Hanifa girl is not afraid to be who she is and is confident in knowing that. She’s living her life out loud whether she’s a student, a mom, a teacher or a business owner. She’s not letting a ‘no’ keep her away from what she wants to do.
There’s an attention to corsetry this go-around. Why was that important to add?
I think it shows my range. I like to challenge myself and I want to be elevating every single time. Anything that’s going to be difficult I want to try it so I can see how far I can go. I’m the type of person that likes to push myself. This is how I think I can elevate every time.
Is there a new way you want to approach the concept of “limitless” in this season?
Yes, by doing everything. If a man did it, it’s like ‘Oh, he did this and he’s doing all this stuff.’ Why can’t a woman do it, too? I’m trying everything that I want to do and everything that interests me.
Your debut runway show in 2021 was located in your hometown of Washington, D.C., and was a lauded moment for a designer to forge their own space outside an organized Fashion Week while remaining loyal to their consumers. For shows to come, do you plan to continue showing off the regular season schedule?
Yes, for sure. It’s too much pressure and feels genuine to me to [keep it off the schedule]. I don’t want to rush a collection just to show it. If it’s going to take me a year, cool. If it’s going to take me two years, that’s fine. It’s just creating my own lane within the industry and within my own circle of things. I want to keep it that way.
You’ve mentioned that you’re eager to expand into the global luxury market. What’s the biggest challenge you think you’ll face navigating this space where your audience has been historically marginalised?
I think one thing that’s important to me is making sure I’m connected to my audience and to my customers. That’s priority. There’s something that we’ve been doing which is surveying, asking questions and just making sure I’m not losing my core audience.
Michelle Obama, Beyoncé, Sarah Jessica Parker, Tracee Ellis Ross and Issa Rae have all worn Hanifa. Is there any celebrity, influencer, or generally dope Black women that would be your dream Hanifa girl?
Oh my god, I mean we had Michelle Obama and she was like the dream. I would like to work with [not just dress] Beyoncé and Rihanna. I would love to be in an environment where I’m creatively directing major projects. We know how crazy Beyoncé’s work ethic is and I’m so inspired by it. I strive to have that type of influence and attention to detail so working creatively with Beyoncé would be amazing for me.
If you could put what you envision the future of Hanifa to be into words, what would they be?
The future of Hanifa is limitless. Being from Congo, girls don’t get opportunities like this. While I’m here, I’m going to show the world what I’m made of and what I can do with the little that we have. We need representation now but also for the future generations so that there’s something someone can look at and say, ‘Damn, she was able to do this. I can do the same thing.’
Mia Uzzell is Glamour’s editorial intern.You can follow her on Instagram @originalmiadiamond.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
The post What’s Next for Fashion Label Hanifa? Being Unapologetically ‘Limitless’ appeared first on Glamour.