scorecardAnifa Mvuemba, the trailblazing designer behind luxury brand Hanifa, is aligned and in full bloom
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Anifa Mvuemba, the trailblazing designer behind luxury brand Hanifa, is aligned and in full bloom

Brea Cubit   

Anifa Mvuemba, the trailblazing designer behind luxury brand Hanifa, is aligned and in full bloom
LifeThelife8 min read

Take a look at fashion designer Anifa Mvuemba's garments, and you'll notice a salient quality. Yes, the colorful fabrics and bold, sophisticated silhouettes are noteworthy in their own right, but it's really their evocative nature that calls for admiration. And Mvuemba, the founder and creative director of luxury wear brand Hanifa, knows this.

"I spend a lot of time perfecting my garments and designs because I want my work to speak for itself," the 32-year-old entrepreneur — who incorporates intricate 3D technology into her design process using software such as Procreate, CLO, and Blender — told Insider. To Mvuemba, creating looks that command attention in rooms that she isn't even in is a mark of true impact through craftsmanship.

Back in December 2022, two Hanifa designs spoke volumes when they were unveiled in an exhibit honoring the late iconic artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. As one of nine Black designers tapped to collaborate with Basquiat's estate and Black Fashion Fair, Mvuemba created a yellow knit dress emblazoned with yarn and the word "Ideal" — inspired by one of Basquiat's untitled sketches — and a regal, shimmery cut-out gown accessorized with Basquiat's emblematic crown.

The looks, displayed among Basquiat's art, beautifully married the power of two creatives who have kept Black expression and passion at the heart of their work. "That was a really special project," Mvuemba said. "The art that I used as inspiration spoke to how we're size-inclusive. The yellow one, in particular, said 'Ideal,' so I had a curvy model in mind while creating it."

Jessica Kelly, Basquiat's niece, notably wore the "Ideal" dress, joining a long list of stars who have rocked Hanifa: Beyoncé, Zendaya, Iman, Tracee Ellis Ross, Issa Rae, and Sarah Jessica Parker, just to name a few. It's a testament to Mvuemba's reach and talent that have been applauded through merits such as the InStyle Awards Future of Fashion honor and recognition from the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund.

In a conversation with Insider for our ongoing series, Black Ensemble: Fashion for the Culture, Mvuemba discussed the evolution of Hanifa, technology in fashion, her upcoming spring collection, and the fashion industry's capricious commitment to diversity and inclusion.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

You've really leaned into using technology for your designs and even showcased a 3D fashion show in 2020. Can you talk to me more about that process?

Absolutely, it really starts in the beginning. I like to get in a space where my design team and I can create concepts and figure out what direction I want to go in for a particular collection.

When I open up a 3D program, I start with this blank canvas. Then I'm like, "How am I feeling? Where do I want to go?" I'll start with adding shapes and textures, then I'll start adding color and fabrics and building it from there.

Because the programs are so detailed and intricate, you can make patterns and prints, and you can test the fabrics and see how they flow. You could even have an avatar walk to see how the fabric moves on their body. It makes the process very efficient and also sustainable because we're not wasting materials. Once we share that with our manufacturers, they're able to see it in detail, which helps with their process.

How did you start using tech in your production process?

What intrigued my interest in the 3D space was Photoshop. Because with Photoshop, you can do so many things, but it only has a few 3D elements, and I wanted to take things further.

Years ago, my fiancé and I went to see a Star Wars movie after Carrie Fisher had already passed, and he was explaining to me that they used CGI for Princess Leia. That night, I dove into research about that sort of tech.

I never want to do something that doesn't feel right to me. Any time I've done something that my spirit told me not to do, it's backfired.

I looked into which programs they used and thought about how I could use it in fashion. So when the pandemic hit, I had something that I could use to my advantage to present my collection, because everything was shut down, but we had to make money. It worked out, and everything took off after that 3D show. It was God's timing.

Speaking of that 3D show, shortly after you did that in 2020, a publication praised and accredited a different brand for hosting an all-digital runway show. And then, just last year, you subtly called out Fashion Nova for ripping off your Jax Knit Gown design. How do you navigate dealing with those sorts of incidents?

With the 3D show, it was a really overwhelming time. I didn't plan for it to go viral the way that it did. I was just sharing my art. But to see it credited to someone else the way that it was, it was really hard. I feel like it's just what you experience, especially being a Black creator. But it was really amazing to see the support of everyone riding for me.

And then with Fashion Nova, I feel like they just don't care — bottom line. That wasn't the first piece that they copied. But I used social media at the time to talk about it because for that piece, in particular, we worked on that technique for almost two years. So to see it ripped off, I was like, "No, that is a direct copy, and I'm calling you guys out on it." And they took it down, which was rewarding. But when it comes to copyright stuff, it's really difficult to win those cases.

You'll be dropping a new collection soon. What's the inspiration behind it, and what sort of pieces can we expect?

We're calling it "Bloom." Springtime is coming, but it's also about the journey of this brand: where I started to where I am today. I'm growing and blooming. We did a lot of research on types of flowers and petals — orchids, hydrangeas, peonies — so you can expect lots of color. It's also a small collection. We've condensed how we do our collections and our sizes so that we can be more intentional in how we present and how we communicate with our customers.

What are some of the most important lessons you've learned about entrepreneurship and everything that goes into running a sustainable business?

Alignment is big for me. I never want to do something that doesn't feel right to me. Any time I've done something that my spirit told me not to do, it's backfired. I'm grateful that now when opportunities come, I can say, "This is great, but it doesn't align with my vision and my goals for my brand right now."

And then having a team that you trust is key. I've tried to run things by myself, and I crumbled and shut down the business for a year. So it's important to have the support that you need to see your vision through.

How do you find that balance of running a commercial business while maintaining your creative freedom?

That balance is hard because I wear the hat of CEO and also creative director. And even now, being pregnant and gearing up for maternity leave, it's been extremely difficult. What I've been doing is splitting up creative days and admin days. And then Wednesdays are my off days — I do work if I want to or I won't, and my team is very respectful of that.

How do you feel about the luxury fashion industry's relationship with Black creatives now compared to the past?

That's a good question. During the George Floyd and Black Lives Matter movement, we saw a lot of performative stuff. It was so cringey, and now it's fizzling out.

I feel like the luxury space is kind of going back to what it was before, and it's sad. There has been progress, but we're also still seeing the same Black creatives being rotated around, and there's so much more talent out there. They might not have the biggest portfolio, but sometimes people just need a chance to prove themselves and show that they can do what they say they can do.

It's difficult, especially when it comes to funding for Black businesses and Black creators. Getting sponsorships and partnerships is very difficult. But I think the most important thing is for us to be knowledgeable and know our value.

In the future, I just hope that the industry will be more inclusive for real and not performative.

Who are some of the other Black fashion leaders that you see innovating and advancing the industry?

Law Roach — he has done a lot and has paved the way for aspiring stylists. There's also a brand called Kai Collective. I love how the founder, Fisayo Longe, is kicking down doors with how she presents herself and the kind of brand that she wants.

And then there's one more person I met through a program. His name is Taofeek Abijako, and his brand is Head of State. He has a really cool perspective and is also very involved in his community.

Is there anything in particular in Black history and culture that has inspired your design perspective?

I'm part of Misa Hylton's mentorship program at her fashion academy. Her story is inspiring to me because she started styling Lil' Kim at a young age in the '90s. Talking to her and seeing the doors that she was able to open was amazing.

What do you think the future of fashion will look like, and what do you think the future of fashion should look like?

To be honest with you, we're seeing so many changes, it's hard to say. In the future, I just hope that the industry will be more inclusive for real and not performative.

What advice would you give to the next generation of fashion designers?

I always tell people to focus on what they're really good at. And make sure that you're aligning yourself with what you believe in. Because the industry will take you in so many directions, and before you know it, you won't even know who you are anymore. So focus on your craft, and do what makes sense to you.

Stay tuned for more Black Ensemble stories in the coming months, featuring some of the most important trendsetters in fashion.




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