close
Fashion designer

Worldwise: Fashion designer Anifa Mvuemba’s favorite things

Anifa Mvuemba, founder of the luxury brand Hanifa.

Kevin Borders

Text size

Anifa Mvuemba is blazing her own trail in the fashion world. The 31-year-old player behind the luxury brand Hanifa— the most recent recipient of InStyle’s Future of Fashion Award — has forged her own path at the intersection of technology and luxury. Beyoncé, Zendaya, Sarah Jessica Parker and Tracee Ellis Ross have all worn Mvuemba’s designs.

“It’s truly a surreal moment whenever I see my designs featured on magazine covers and worn by influential faces,” says Mvuemba. “I always intended to create pieces that encourage women to say less when they walk into the room because everyone is watching 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 never focus on telling people where I’m from. A lot of times when you enter the industry as an African designer, you’re categorized as such,” Mvuemba explains. It’s easy to get pigeonholed and labeled as one thing, which is why I’ve moved away from tribal prints.”

As a graduate of Morgan State, Maryland HBCU, and a native of the Washington, DC area, Mvuemba’s journey into the fashion industry has followed an unconventional path.

“I didn’t go to a fancy design school or intern at Vogue,” says Mvuemba. “I’ve always done my own thing, but I think the pandemic has taught me to accept that even more.”

In May 2020, Mvuemba became a viral sensation when she launched the first-ever virtual catwalk featuring 3D designs and invisible runway models. For her first show last November, she skipped New York Fashion Week in favor of a successful show in her hometown at the National Portrait Gallery, which was streamed live on YouTube.

“Black designers constantly fight the stigma that their designs only belong in one space or one audience,” says Mvuemba. “I don’t believe that to be true, and I will continue to challenge that by inserting Hanifa into any conversation that interests me.”

Mvuemba, who lives in Washington, recently spoke with penta about his favorite things.

Something I do to relax is… my mind is always on the next thing and to relax I need to unplug. I like to pour a glass of wine and turn on Lofi Girl beats, or rain sounds, and relax. The rhythms of both are always so soothing to me.

The person I admire the most is… my mother has always inspired me. Migrating to the United States from a country at war and having seven young children to support while pursuing your dreams is beyond words for me. She does her best every day and I continue to learn from her example.

At my fantastic dinner, guests would include… Kanye West for his artistry, David Ajayi for architectural design, and Beyoncé for her work ethic and creativity.

A childhood memory that I cherish is… I loved playing games like The Sims, Monkey Island, Double 007, and Mario Cart growing up. As a teenager, I also had a lot of fun coding on Black Planet. When I wasn’t glued to a screen, I looked forward to our Congolese family evenings, they were the best! The food, my cousins ​​and everyone together really made my childhood memorable.

An artist whose work I admire is…
Kelly Wearstler. I appreciate her vision of interiors and how she is able to combine elements we might not think of to create something so striking. Also, Christopher John Rogers: I respect his design and his imagination. I have never seen rainbows presented the way CJR does. He is a peer that I really admire.

My idea of ​​a perfect meal is… a crab feast, anywhere and anytime…like a real Maryland girl!

One of my passions that few people know about is… I love music and I love to sing!

The one thing I travel with to make my accommodation/hotel room feel more like home is… in fact, I’d rather my hotel not feel like home. I appreciate the change of scenery while I’m away and try to immerse myself in whatever accommodation I find myself in to get the full experience.

The only trip I’ve done that I’d like to do again… I would love to go back to Williamsburg, Virginia, it was such a relaxing trip. This is one of the few trips where I was able to really relax.

What wakes me up in the morning is… I constantly have tabs open in my mind to prioritize throughout the week. Knowing this, I wake up in the morning to plan and get a head start on my day.

One person who inspired me to do what I do is… the women on my team really give it their all. Everyone works 200% beyond what is expected of them and collaborates by mutual agreement. Knowing that I’ve helped cultivate this work culture and passion really inspires me.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Hazel J. Edmonds

The author Hazel J. Edmonds