In September, when the New York fashion scene converged for the city’s full return to live catwalks since the Covid-19 pandemic, a much-anticipated brand was conspicuously absent from the runway. Months after receiving a CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund grant for emerging designers, Anifa Mvuemba, founder of women’s clothing brand Hanifa, pulled out of the hustle and bustle of Manhattan with a simple message to her customers: ” stay tuned”.
Mvuemba has made a name for himself as the head of an independent black brand that is committed to presenting mainly black and brown models and offering sizes from 0 to 20. Hanifa, which is mainly based on e-commerce, has been worn by celebrities such as Beyoncé, Tracee Ellis Ross and Issa Rae.
On November 16, the brand finally held its first in-person exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC, in the glass-ceilinged Kogod Yard. The ‘Hanifa Dream’ fall / winter 2021 presentation celebrated the brand’s 10th anniversary and showcased a range of new pieces alongside the classic Hanifa shoes.
Anita Mvuemba celebrated Hanifa’s 10th birthday with her fall-winter 2021 show “Hanifa Dream”. Credit: Shannon Finney / Getty Images for Hanifa
“We were originally supposed to show during Fashion Week, but it just didn’t work out. It didn’t look right,” Mvuemba told CNN after the show. “And I was like, ‘You know what? We’re gonna do it here.’ I started here (in DC) 10 years ago, and that’s where we’re going to do our first show. “
Mvuemba has been recognized by the CFDA / Vogue Fashion Fund and her styles are loved by celebrities such as Beyoncé, Tracee Ellis Ross and Issa Rae. Credit: Ilya S. Savenok / Getty Images
In “Hanifa Dream,” Mvuemba ventured into new textiles, launching knit dresses, patent leather coats and structured denim dresses. Texture was a theme in the show, as Hanifa fused her asymmetrical, structured clothing into new tactile mediums. One of the first looks was a blue patent leather trench coat, signifying this expansion of technique.
“The world is changing, things are changing, why do we have to follow what everyone else has done?” said Mvuemba.
Fashion has seen the rise of brands owned and operated by blacks, but fashion historian Shelby Ivie Christie says there is still work to be done. Credit: Zara Israel
Sometimes considered a fashion underdog, Mvuemba initially founded her company without external funding and she grew her fan base organically while continuing to operate from her Maryland studio. Much of the brand’s visibility is due to its relationships with historic black publications like Essence magazine and people of color in the fashion, media and entertainment spaces.
Mvuemba, who is Congolese, is heavily influenced by African culture and design, but she says she didn’t want to be called an African designer because of the inequalities. Credit: Shannon Finney / Getty Images for Hanifa
“When I started out I didn’t want to be labeled as an African designer as they are placed in a separate category,” Mvuemba said. “I always use the African culture in my tailoring, which is so important. You see the seams, you see the structure, you see the beautiful prints. So, I just wanted to keep that and do it my way. ‘s what I have been doing since I started. “