When she first saw the National Portrait Gallery, she thought, “‘Oh my God this place is incredible.’ And it worked within our budget. When people think of D.C., they think of government and all of those things and a working city. When in comes to fashion, it’s not the first city you think of. I just want to show people another side.”
“Showing in D.C. really hits close to home because it’s where my family migrated when we first came from Congo. In many ways, it’s like paying homage to the city, and it’s also where I’m based,” said the 30-year-old Mvuemba, whose family migrated to D.C. in 1994.
Mvuemba intends to invite the press, people from the fashion industry and, most importantly, her customers to the runway show. “I would have never made it this far without my customers. They are so supportive. It’s like a team. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Since launching 10 years ago, Hanifa has been strictly e-commerce. She doesn’t sell in any stores. She noted that most of her customers come from New York, followed by D.C., Atlanta, Los Angeles and London. She posted her first dress on Instagram on Nov. 16, 2011, and the show will mark both her 10-year anniversary and her 31st birthday.
Using the $50,000 prize money from the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund to finance her runway show, she said, “If they’re giving you 50 grand and you’re planning a show, it’s all going toward that.”
Mvuemba plans to introduce her fall collection on the runway with 25 looks, which will be available for purchase immediately following the show on her website, Hanifa.co. She will feature models of all body types and skin tones. Hanifa’s sizes range from XXS to 3XL.
The designer said she really hasn’t felt part of the fashion industry and wants to show them who Hanifa is, how she designs and what she’s been doing in D.C. She plans to show dresses, suits, coats and knitwear, “which is really big for us.” Her collection retails from $200 to about $1,000, and it is produced in Turkey, China, D.C. and New York.
“I always had this insecurity about not being received well from the fashion industry. After we launched [the collection called] Pink Label Congo, it was, like, ‘Who is this girl?’ I really want people to see and understand this is me, and this is who I am, I am a designer and I’m really passionate about this. I want to show the world how I want to do this and the way I’m going to do this, and that Hanifa is here to stay,” she said.
In May 2020, she did a virtual show on Instagram Live for her Pink Label Congo collection using 3D renderings of headless models, which went viral. She used the opportunity to bring awareness to Congo’s inhumane mining conditions. Describing how her business was impacted during the pandemic, she said, “I was terrified in the beginning. I thought, you know what? We’re done. What’s really important here is not the clothes but people being safe and healthy. Making clothes wasn’t a priority for people. I was watching our bank accounts deplete as things were changing. My team is depending on this business to feed their families and it was really difficult. I quickly learned that during that time people were looking for a sense of hope and inspiration and we can still do this and move forward. That’s when we started putting together the Pink Label Congo. It was just to make sure we were putting something out. And also to make some money as well. When it aired on Instagram, it was mind-blowing. We weren’t planning for it to go viral. We weren’t planning for it to be this whole big thing,” she said.
“When I design Hanifa, I don’t talk about where I’m from. [Pink Label Congo] was my chance to tell people, I’m African and I’m also from Congo and we have this crisis back home,” she said. “A lot of times when you come out, being an African designer, you’re categorized as an African designer. I didn’t want to come out with tribal prints.” In total, her collections generated about $3 million in volume last year. “We’re trying to triple that this year,” said Mvuemba, who has a team of 10 people.
She believes being a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist will help open doors. “I’ll reach a wider audience, globally as well. I think that’s always good. If anything, it will expand Hanifa,” she said. As part of the program, she said she was assigned a mentor, Patrick Robinson, who’s given her great advice. Next week, she plans to introduce footwear, which will be shown on the runway. The footwear, which ranges from sizes 36 to 42, is produced in-house.
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