HANIFA: Breaking New Ground and Showing That the Future Is Female and Digital

HANIFA: Breaking New Ground and Showing That the Future Is Female and Digital

There is no doubt that the African fashion industry has a long way to go in terms of its development, but it has its equal share of success stories. We continually see many designers “queening” and showing the world that there is more to Africa’s fashion industry than what meets the eye. In this month of March, we celebrate Anifa Mvuemba, a Congolese female designer who has broken glass ceilings, becoming the first designer to live stream a 3D fashion show! Here’s a brief story of how the African queen built her powerful brand HANIFA.

HANIFA was birthed in 2012 by Anifa Mvuemba. She started her business in 2012 with money she received from a tax return refund, and an intermittent retail job at Nordstrom. HANIFA is an adaptation for the Congolese designer’s Arabic name Anifa which means “true believer”. The roots of the brand can be traced back to 2011, when Anifa decided to make her own dress for her prom, which she then showcased on Instagram. The response to the dress was overwhelming, and from then she started getting orders via text messages, word of mouth and Instagram. At this point, most of the orders were prom gowns and other formal wear. 3 years after the business was launched, it set up a proper e-commerce site and a more traditional ready-to-wear collection featuring separates and jumpsuits. Despite this major improvement, the collection was still costly to produce.

In 2016, Anifa relaunched HANIFA, with an Essentials collection of curve-hugging pants, cozy knits, and easy wrap dresses. She still had to manage the lack of outside financial backing, so she did a lot of pre-orders to finance the purchase of raw materials, and pay for manufacturing. She would then reinvest the surplus from her proceeds to increase her capacity to produce more garments. The HANIFA brand has grown through a lot of sweat capital from the founder herself. Until March 2018, Anifa was sewing everything herself. The entrepreneur even had a friend of hers learn how to sew so she could help her ease the burden. In 2018, one of HANIFA’s fabric suppliers introduced the business to a factory based in New York garment district, where its collection is now produced.

With an improvement in operations, the brand managed to introduce a more aspirational, luxe-contemporary Pink Label collection to complement Essentials, in June 2019. Fast forward to 2020, the brand recorded one of its most significant milestones when it launched a digital collection. The collection is particularly special because it was the first live stream of a 3D fashion show to be launched! This move put the HANIFA brand on the fashion map both aesthetically and digitally. The show was preceded by a mini-documentary highlighting the exploitation of child labourers in the mineral-rich Congolese mining industry and the pieces showcased also carried Congolese themes. The collection a piece named Kinshasa (the capital city of DRC) and one piece which had prints of a Congolese river on it. Although the collection showcased only 5 looks, the move proved to be powerful for marketing. Following a successful 3D show, orders for the brand’s garments shot up to 500 units per garment, as opposed to the regular 100-200units! The top-sellers included a curve-hugging corseted strapless sheath with patch pockets and parachute ruched hem, as well as a miniskirt featuring a print of Congolese rivers.

There is no doubt that the HANIFA brand has shaken up the fashion landscape as we know it, but their journey just like many great ones has not been without obstacles. “For Pink Label Congo, there were glitches in the process of the build out since the business was doing something for the first time.” recalls Anifa.  The brand spent weeks testing the show on a 2nd account up to the hour before it was to go live on its official handle. Instagram was blocking the software HANIFA used, so it ended up using its Bridal account last-minute as a save. “In the end, everything just came together and it was a risk I am happy we took.”  says Anifa.  The brand also suffered a glitch after Forbes excluded Anifa from a story on 3D fashion shows, where it went on to (incorrectly) claim that another company – Bigthinx was the first to do a 3D-fashion show. This came as a huge blow to HANIFA and its fans, and it triggered a huge outcry among the brand’s followers. Fortunately Forbes paid attention to the concern and later corrected this mistake, highlighting that HANIFA indeed was the first brand to live stream a 3D fashion show on the 22nd of May 2020. After this event, HANIFA was added to Beyonce’s e-commerce directory for Black businesses, Black Parade Juneteenth!

Here’s what Anifa and her brand had to say about COVID-19, perceptions on the African fashion industry, advice to young entrepreneurs, and plans for the future.

How the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the HANIFA brand  

While I had every intention of showing my latest collection last fall at NYFW, it was over five years ago that I first had an idea of one day staging a virtual runway show. Then I considered it an ambitious, distant goal. When the pandemic hit and I had to find a solution for how to reach our audience in a meaningful way, I realized this was an opportunity to lean into my self-taught knowledge of technology and 3D design to develop and design the virtual show of my earlier dreams. What we did with the resulting Pink Label Congo collection was a game-changer; it drew new eyes to HANIFA and opened up a conversation in the industry about how independent - and for that matter any - labels can move forward in the changing landscape.

Strategies or changes HANIFA had to make to adapt to the new normal

I think I have made better decisions when it comes to creating and output. I no longer feel pressured to drop collections at certain times, and have slowed down a bit to become even more intentional in how and when we deliver products to the HANIFA customer. It’s not about making noise for the sake of noise, but making beautiful pieces that contribute to the lifestyle of our clients.

HANIFA’s perceptions on the future of African fashion industry and your advice to upcoming entrepreneurs

I think Africa is the future of fashion. While I feel more can always be done to increase the visibility of African designers in media and within the global retail sector, with technology and social media at our fingertips we can play in fashion on our own terms. As African designers, we continue to work outside of the box and no longer adhere to the creative corridors the rest of the world likes to place us in, we discover how to articulate our voices in new ways. We must continue to uplift and amplify one another, the industry will have no choice but to listen.  There are no limits to our creativity... and now the world can see that first-hand via our marketing, reach and most importantly the design which speaks for itself. Be intentional with your craft and your business. Do what feels best for you and always ride for your brand.

Upcoming Plans

More 3D-rendered fashion moments, another Pink Label Collection, and an important new category I am perfecting that has been several years in the works

To view more of HANIFA’s work, visit their website- www.hanifa.co or connect with them via Instagram-@hanifaofficial or Twitter-@officialHanifa.

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HANIFA: Breaking New Ground and Showing That the Future Is Female and Digital

Apr 15, 2021
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