Thanks to Congolese Designer Hanifa, We've Glimpsed the Post-COVID Future of Fashion

A screengrab from Hanifa’s PINK LABEL Capsule Collection-Inspired by Congo on May 22, 2020.
A screengrab from Hanifa’s PINK LABEL Capsule Collection-Inspired by Congo on May 22, 2020.
Screenshot: RETAILBOSS (YouTube)

“If you’re African, then you know about African seamstresses and how detail is so important, and color is so important, and prints are so important. So, I really wanted to make sure that I used that in this collection, just to give tribute to all the African seamstresses out there,” said Congo, Africa-born designer Anifa Mvuemba as she introduced the most recent collection of her fashion label Hanifa on Instagram on Friday, May 22, aptly timed just ahead of Africa Day on May 25.

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Mvuemba’s “Pink Label: Capsule Collection-Inspired by Congo” may have been rooted in a respected cultural tradition, but the presentation was one seemingly made for our present moment. Presenting her designs in a model-free, 3D format, the virtual fashion show answered the question many in the fashion industry have been asking since the coronavirus outbreak: what does the future of Fashion Week—or the fashion show, in general—look like when it’s potentially unsafe to gather or even travel for the foreseeable future?

“We know that some people may never experience a fashion week or Hanifa showcase, so we wanted to show up for our audience where they show up for us on a daily basis,” Mvuemba explained to Teen Vogue. “That’s when Instagram became the obvious choice.”

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With just eight garments, Hanifa showed us a world of potential; both innovating and democratizing the arguably too-exclusive realm of fashion, as Instagram Live replaced the highly restrictive venues usually associated with fashion shows around the world—and the prohibitive cost of producing them. But as Mvuemba told Teen Vogue, the idea was in the works well before the world was placed on lockdown, as she’d been using 3D designs in her sample-making process. In fact, the COVID-19 crisis almost delayed her decision to present at all.

“The news came out about how serious things were and I started to feel a bit anxious about everything going on. I started feeling like maybe it would be insensitive to create and share a new collection online while people were facing very difficult realities,” she told the magazine. But ultimately, she realized the timing couldn’t possibly be better to evolve beyond the traditional presentational realm.

“My decision to keep going could impact our customers for the better in ways I never imagined. That’s when I knew it was time,” she added, noting that: “designing content using 3D models and now an entire collection has been a complete game-changer for me. It actually requires an even greater amount of attention-to-detail for the clothes to fit and look just right.”

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The collection itself was both a testament to the power of modern technology and of ancestral legacy; one of Mvuemba’s designs included the evocative colors of the Congo flag, while others included landscape-inspired prints meant to evoke her birthplace in Central Africa and the issues prevalent in the region including the danger of cobalt mining, often done by children.

“I want these pieces to tell a story of meaning. I want them to remind us to be intentional about what we create. Not for clout or for Instagram likes, but for the sake of meaning what we say by storytelling through our designs.”

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“Growing up, I heard so many stories about the cobalt and mining issues in Congo...a lot of times, there are children at these mines, a lot of them are losing their lives and a lot of families are affected,” she added while speaking about the collection, which was prefaced by a brief documentary about the country (h/t CNN).

And in a particularly refreshing turn, the collection’s designs, which are already available from $115 to $499, offered in sizes XS to 2XL, were modeled on decidedly curvy proportions.

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“With a digital model you’re determining the measurements and what would cause the model to look most realistic,” Mvuemba explained. “Without real women to draw inspiration from, there could be no 3D models to emulate our beautiful skin tones, curves, and walking patterns. For me, the biggest challenge is making sure that the beauty we display in real life is well represented on the screen.”

And while Hanifa has us feeling newly inspired about the future of fashion, its founder and designer hopes her newfound process is equally inspirational to fellow creatives, especially young African talents like herself wondering how to stage their breakthrough. Speaking with Teen Vogue, Mvuemba encourages them to: “carve out time to discover their voice before sharing it with the world. Creating is fun and we all love to do it, but the real work is in identifying who you want to be in this industry and whether or not your collections speak to that.”

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Hanifa’s eight-piece capsule collection is available on the Hanifa website now.

Maiysha Kai is Managing Editor of The Glow Up, an avid eyeshadow enthusiast and always her own muse. Minneapolis born, Chicago bred, New York built. Nuance is her superpower.

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DISCUSSION

It seems kind of weird to make a tribute to the skill of seamstresses with a display that completely obscures the thing the skill of a seamstress most determines: fit.