Aniva Mvuemba is making her way into the fashion world. The 31-year-old behind luxury brand Hanifa – the newest winner of InStyle’s Future of Fashion award – has created a path of her own at the intersection of technology and luxury. Beyoncé, Zendaya, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Tracy Ellis Ross all wore the Mvuemba designs.
“It’s truly a surreal moment every time I see my designs appear on magazine covers and dressed up by touching faces,” Mvuemba says. “It’s always been my intention to create pieces that encourage women to say a little when they walk into the room because everyone is looking at it anyway.”
Born in Kenya to Congolese parents, Mfwemba was 3 years old when she and her family immigrated to the United States to escape the war and start a new life.
“When I design Hanifa, I never focus on telling people where I come from. Often when you enter the industry as an African designer, you are labeled like that,” Mvuemba explains. “It’s easy to find yourself conceited and labeled as one thing, which is why I steered clear of the tribal prints.”
As a graduate of the Morgan State, Maryland HBCU, and a native of the Washington, DC area, Mvuemba’s journey in the fashion industry has followed an unconventional path.
“I didn’t go to a fancy design school or trained in Vogue,” Mvuemba says. “I’ve always been doing my own thing, but I think the pandemic has taught me to accept that more.”
In May of 2020, Mvuemba became a sensation when it pioneered the first ever virtual runway show with 3D designs and invisible runway models. At her first fashion show last November, she skipped New York Fashion Week in favor of a successful show in her hometown of the National Portrait Gallery, which was streamed live on YouTube.
“Black designers constantly struggle with the stigma that their designs belong to only one space, or to one audience,” says Mvuemba. “I don’t think this is true, and I will continue to challenge that by including Hanifa in every conversation that interests me.”
Mvuemba, who lives in Washington, spoke to him recently girl about her favorite things.
Something I do to relax is… My mind is always on to the next thing and to unwind I need to unplug it. I like to pour a glass of wine and play the tunes of Lofi Girl, or the sounds of rain, and just chill. The rhythms of both always calm me down.
The person he likes the most is… My mom has always inspired me. Emigrating to the United States from a war-torn country, and having seven young children to care for them all while fulfilling her dreams, is beyond words to me. She does her best every day and I’m still learning from her example.
At my imaginary dinner party, among the guests was … Kanye West for his art, David Ajayi for architectural design, and Beyoncé for her work ethic and creativity.
A childhood memory that I value most is… I loved playing games like Sims, Monkey Island, Double 007, and Mario Cart. I really enjoyed programming on Black Planet too when I was a teenager. When I wasn’t glued to the screen, I couldn’t wait for our Congolese family parties, they were the best! The food, my cousins and everyone else all together made my childhood truly unforgettable.
The artist I love to do…
Kelly Wearstler. I appreciate her approach to interiors, and how she is able to combine elements we might not have thought of to create something absolutely stunning. And also, Christopher John Rogers: I respect his determination and his imagination. I’ve never seen a rainbow feet the way CJR does. It’s a peer that I really like.
My idea of the perfect meal is… Crab feast, anywhere, anytime… like a real Maryland girl!
My passion that few people know about is… I love music and love to sing!
The only thing I travel with to make my hotel stay/room 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 dive in wherever I go to fully enjoy the experience.
The only trip I’ve taken that I’d love to do again… I would love to go back to Williamsburg, Virginia, it was such a relaxing trip. It’s one of the few trips where I’ve actually been able to relax.
The thing that wakes me up in the morning is… I constantly have tabs open in my mind for prioritizing throughout the week. Knowing this wakes me up in the morning to plan and get a head start on my day.
The person who inspired me to do what I do is… The women on my team really give it their all. Everyone works 200% more than is expected of them and cooperates according to one agreement. Knowing that I helped cultivate a work culture and passion really inspires me.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.