When I was growing up in the South in the mid 90s, I dreamed of a day when I would see melinated women on the glossy covers. A fashion world that circulated about the diverse, beautiful and dynamic tones that saturate the real world. Somewhere else in the world there was a little girl thinking the same thing, but with the talent and the vision to make a change. That girl is Anifa Mvuemba, the self-taught powerhouse designer behind the apparel line, Hanifa. In an extremely short period of time, Anifa has taken her designs from the square grids of Instagram to the runways of New York Fashion Week.
It was my pleasure to sit down with her in the midst of a chaotic fashion month to talk about her latest collection, the challenge of overcoming your fear, and how she feels about the ever-changing landscape of the fashion industry. If you're unfamiliar with this designer, then here's your chance to find out.
What’s the most exciting thing (to you) about the fashion industry?
I do like that I'm seeing more inclusion for black people. I do enjoy seeing more shapes and curves on the covers, on TV, and fashion editorial shoots; there wasn't a lot of that before. I love looking at vintage magazines, specifically 1970's - and we are barely on the covers or even in the magazine. It's really cool to see the change.
In 'ESSENCE', you said, “I want people to support and shop Hanifa not because of my image, but because they genuinely love the clothes.” How do you stay true to that mission when personal and professional branding overlap so much?
With how social media is today, a lot of people buy into an individual. People buy into the person. I want to see my brand flourish and see them in high places. I just want people to love the clothes and want them to have a genuine love for the brand.
"I want to see my brand flourish and see them in high places. I just want people to love the clothes and want them to have a genuine love for the brand."
Your newest collection, the Pink Label, is inspired by the captivating colors of tropical islands and the natural bends and dips of a woman. Why was it important for these elements to be represented in your newest collection?
I used to design similar styles to this when I started so I wanted to revisit it. I always started with a woman's body. I admire curves. When I started, I was a size 2/4. Now I'm a size 12 and a lot of stuff doesn't fit me. That's even more of a reason for me to push that for this space; for women who feel unheard.
How do you feel when notable people (Ciara, Kelly Rowland, Cardi B) wear your designs?
It's surreal. A lot of the celebs that have worn my things, I admire them. I scream on the inside. It's really cool and very exciting. I am just very grateful. A lot of the times, it's a genuine connection. I really want whoever wears it to enjoy it.
"I always started with a woman's body. I admire curves. That's even more of a reason for me to push that for this space; for women who feel unheard."
Can you share the process of opening your first store?
I was going through a really difficult time about a year ago. I'm Christian so I wanted to pray and see what the Lord wanted me to do. If you would've asked a month beforehand, I would've said no. Just too much. But after that time, it weighed on my heart to have a store. I didn't know how I would go about it but I wanted to do it. I started researching and going through the process. A month or two later, I was planning a grand opening.
What did this process teach you?
I realized a lot of people want to experience something -- they want the connection with the brand. I think right now, I'm really enjoying meeting and seeing people who like the brand. I also like people seeing the garments in person. It's really cool to see. I don't know where it's going to go but I enjoy it a lot.
"I don't know where it's going to go but I enjoy it a lot."
It sounds like you also had a pretty significant lesson in fear and taking a chance. Can you share some tips on how to overcome fear when pursuing your dreams?
It's very tricky. I would be so anxious anytime I put something out -- I was so nervous to see how the world would receive it. I'm terrified of being criticized or it being ugly. I like to go back in the history of my work and use that as a boost of confidence. I pray a lot as well.
While we’re discussing advice, what advice do you have for emerging designers, specifically black designers?
Stay true to yourself. It's so easy to get sucked in based on what we see on a daily basis. If you want to be a black designer, align your beliefs with what we're creating. It goes hand in hand with staying true to yourself.
"If you want to be a black designer, align your beliefs with what we're creating. It goes hand in hand with staying true to yourself."
What trends are you excited about seeing this fashion month?
I really am loving the mixed prints. I'm definitely going to get more into prints and expressive patterns. On the runway: Unconventional stuff. I love that.
Lastly, what do you want the world to know that maybe you’ve haven’t able to say yet?
Lately, I've been getting a lot of girls that like the brand but are concerned with it (specifically plus size) so I'm currently working on the size range. I'm very interested in the fit and making sure everything fits plus size women better. And I know people want to get to know me, but I want that to happen organically as well.