In 2020, we were a nation in turmoil: a pandemic, a culture-shifting racial reckoning, and—as a by-product—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 3D virtual runway. It not only showcased the brand's unique silhouettes and signature maximalism but marked an entry into the world of fashion meets tech. The result was a viral collection that communicated boldly that a new era—one in which Black women were at the fore of ingenuity—was on the horizon.
Two years after the viral collection and 11 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 this was a brand ready to make its mark on 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.
Glamour: 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 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 in the clothes.