Anifa Mvuemba is blazing her own trail through the fashion world. The 31-year-old behind the luxury brand Hanifa—the most recent recipient of InStyle’s Future of Fashion Award—has created a lane of her own at the intersection of tech and luxury. Beyoncé, Zendaya, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Tracee Ellis Ross have all worn Mvuemba’s designs.
“It’s truly a surreal moment every time I see my designs featured on magazine covers and worn by influential faces,” Mvuemba says. “It has always been my intention to create pieces that encourage women to say less when they walk in the room because everyone’s looking anyway.”
Born in Kenya to Congolese parents, Mvuemba was 3 years old when she and her family immigrated to the United States to escape war and start a new life.
“When I design Hanifa, I’m never laser-focused on telling people where I’m from. A lot of times when you break into the industry as an African designer, you’re categorized as just that,” Mvuemba explains. “It’s easy to find yourself pigeonholed and labeled as one thing, which is why I’ve steered away from tribal prints.”
As a graduate of Morgan State, the Maryland HBCU, and native of the Washington, DC, area, Mvuemba’s journey into the fashion industry followed an unconventional path.
“I didn’t go to a fancy design school or intern at Vogue,” Mvuemba says. “I’ve always done my own thing, but I think the pandemic taught me to embrace that even more.”
In May of 2020, Mvuemba became a viral sensation when she pioneered the first-ever virtual runway show with 3-D designs and invisible runway models. For her debut runway show last November, she skipped New York Fashion Week in favor of a successful hometown show at the National Portrait Gallery, which iwas livestreamed on YouTube.
“Black designers are constantly fighting the stigma that their designs belong in only one space, or for one audience,” Mvuemba says. “I don’t believe that to be true, and I will continue to challenge that by inserting Hanifa into every conversation that interests me.”
Mvuemba, who lives in Washington, recently spoke with Penta about her favorite things.
Something I do to relax is… my mind is always on to the next thing and to relax I need to unplug. I like to pour a glass of wine and turn on beats by Lofi Girl, or sounds of rain, and just chill. The rhythms of both are always so soothing to me.
The person I most admire is… my mom has always inspired me. Migrating to the US from a war-stricken country, and having seven young children to care for all while pursuing her dreams is beyond words for me. She tries her best everyday and I continue to learn from her example.
At my fantasy dinner party, the guests would include… Kanye West for his artistry, David Ajayi for architectural design, and Beyoncé for her work ethic and creativity.
A childhood memory I treasure is… I loved playing games like the Sims, Monkey Island, Double 007, and Mario Cart growing up. I really had fun coding on Black Planet too as a teenager. When I wasn’t glued to a screen, I couldn’t wait for our family Congolese parties, they were the best! The food, my cousins and everyone gathering together, truly made my childhood memorable.
An artist whose work I admire is…
Kelly Wearstler. I appreciate her take on interiors, and how she’s able to combine elements we may not think of to create something so striking. Also, Christopher John Rogers: I respect his design and imagination. I’ve never seen rainbows presented the way that CJR does them. He’s a peer I truly admire.
My idea of a perfect meal is… a crab feast, anywhere at any time… like a true Maryland girl!
A passion of mine that few people know about is… I love music and I love to sing!
The one thing I travel with to make my accommodations/hotel room feel more like home is… Actually, I prefer that my hotel doesn’t feel like home. I appreciate the change of scenery while being away, and I try to immerse myself in whatever accommodations I’m in to fully embrace the experience.
The one trip I’ve taken that I would love to do again… I would love to go back to Williamsburg, Va., it was such a relaxing trip. It’s one of the few trips where I was actually able to unwind.
The thing that gets me up in the morning is… I constantly have tabs open in my mind to prioritize throughout the week. Knowing this wakes me up in the morning to plan and get a head start on my day.
A person who inspired me to do what I do is… the women on my team truly give it their all. Everyone works at 200% beyond what is expected of them and collaborates on one accord. Knowing that I’ve helped to cultivate that work culture and passion really inspires me.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.