When I arrived in a studio in Dumbo, Brooklyn, I had no idea what to expect. I’d heard about the magic that was a Hanifa fashion show from the raving reviews about the brand’s runway debut back in November 2021 at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C., but to actually be invited behind the scenes to see the magic come to life was a pure honor. Ready-to-wear contemporary brand Hanifa by Anifa Mvuemba was preparing to premiere its SS2022 collection inspired by the theme “Live Out Loud” through a runway show on the brand’s official YouTube channel @Hanifa.

The collection’s runway show will feature 28 looks filled with intense colors, feminine-flattering silhouettes, bold patterns, and flavorful designs while the audience experiences a never-before-seen take on this nontraditional runway experience. From the Anais Balloon Dress to the Leah Feather Gown, Hanifa’s tech-driven innovation perfectly elevates the customer’s experience of their Summer 2022 collection as an expression of joy, celebration, and wonder.

Hanifa’s lead hairstylist Anike Rabiu was first introduced to the Hanifa brand during quarantine via social media, thanks to the groundbreaking virtual fashion shows. After doing her research on the Hanifa brand, Rabiu learned that the brand was not only Black-owned but also discovered that she and the founder Anifa Mvuemba shared the same African background, with Mvuemba being from Congo and Rabiu from Nigeria. “I’m from Nigeria so I was like, ‘Okay, come on’,” she laughed. “Fast forward two years later, I received a request to work with the brand, and here we are today.”

“The inspiration behind the hair was pretty much in conjunction with the makeup and the set,” explained Rabiu to ESSENCE. Rabiu told ESSENCE that has been doing professionally hair for nearly 10 years, but realized early that she loves the backstage set vibes more than the salon life. “Because there’s some elements of water, we wanted baby hairs and to make the hair shiny just to emulate some of the wetness. We wanted to do a little bit more and keep the models as natural as possible because it’s the best way. It’s relatable.”

When speaking about the models, Rabiu explained the importance of representation in the models behind-the-scenes, especially when working for a Black-owned brand. “Thankfully, I’m so happy that most of the models are models of color because as we all know models of colors don’t get a lot of play backstage, and usually when they do, it’s always a particular type,” Rabiu explained. “It’s a particular look and doing a particular hairstyle. We wanted to keep it in the same high fashion kind of vibe. We did the straight backs, but we add a little bit more element to it by making smaller braids in between the cornrows to give it a little bit more razzle-dazzle.”

Ahead of the SS2022 collection reveal, we spoke with Hanifa founder Anifa Mvuemba herself about the inspiration behind her latest work, why she decided to use IRL models this time around rather than her acclaimed virtual silhouettes, and her hopes for the future of the Hanifa brand.

ESSENCE: What inspired Hanifa’s latest collection?

Anifa Mvuemba: Let me backtrack. I really wanted to show people my range with this collection in terms of craftsmanship, design, and the way that we wanted to present this to the public. It was really about the growth of the brand too, and really honing in on who we are and stepping into that destiny. The last show that we had was all about the Hanifa Dream and being able to produce this beautiful show in the city that we’re from and based in, and doing it on our own. Coming up when I started, I can only dream of moments like that. Now it’s more like, “Okay, now we did the Hanifa Dream. Now, it’s about who we are as a brand and who I am as a designer and showcasing that in this collection.”

The way that it was being presented, I really wanted it to tie into our Pink Label Congo collection as well, and how that was presented, just because that was such a pivotal moment to the Hanifa brand. It changed the trajectory of Hanifa. I wanted to tie those two things together. If you remember Pink Label Congo, it was all black then you saw just the digital models walking. So I wanted to bring that to life, but with real people in a way.

ESSENCE: How is this fashion show different from previous shows of yours, including your runway debut show in DC last year?

Mvuemba: I wouldn’t say it’s different. I think we always like to do things in a disruptive way. There’s always something that’s connected to something that we’ve done previously, just to keep that continuity of the brand and also just making sure that things are aligning and things are being cohesive, but I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s different. I would say there has been a lot of elevation in terms of what we use in the collection itself as far as fabrics, and construction and the tech part of it is something that we’ve been already working on and utilizing internally. I wouldn’t say it’s so much different, but I just think it’s its own collection.

ESSENCE: How has the Hanifa brand continued to be a pioneer in the relationship between fashion and technology?

Mvuemba: It’s still such a very new space, even for myself and the fashion industry as a whole. I think it’s about being super creative, super resourceful, figuring out ways to connect the two worlds. There are a lot of talks about the metaverse and all these other different things. The most important thing for me is making sure that it makes sense for me; it makes sense for my team; it makes sense for my brand. Up until this point, we’ve been using this technology, and in everything that we do as far as pattern making, sampling, and designing we’ve dropped footwear campaigns. All of our footwear campaigns have all been digital. Learning the ropes, trying to grow in this sector as well, and learning how we can continue to utilize the technology to advance the Hanifa brand.

ESSENCE: I know that it’s like asking you to pick one of your favorite children, but which pieces are some of your favorite from this collection?

Mvuemba: Oh my gosh, I really have to think about this. It’s always the ones that are really difficult because we’ll sample it like a hundred times and their team is like, “Are you sure? Do you think this is going to work?” I’m like, “It’s going to work. We got to keep doing it until we get it right.” It was about having that tunnel vision focus and believing in the products, the design, and our capabilities. I would definitely say the ruffle gowns were very difficult to make and this is our first time using this fabric. Our fabrication has changed as well, but I’m so proud of the ruffle gowns. There are so many. I love all of them. I really do. The shirt dresses are amazing. You could dress them down, you could dress them up. The girls are going to love that one but if I keep going, I’m just going to start going down the list of all clothes.

ESSENCE: How is this collection a reflection of your growth as a designer throughout the years?

Mvuemba: I would definitely say there’s always a level of elevation every year for us. Sometimes when I look back, I’m internally comparing the two like, “Last year we were doing something completely different and now we’re so far in advance.” With this one, of course on the business side, [I was] planning better, delegating better amongst the team, having a bigger design team this time around, having better fabric, and patterns. There are so many little different departments that collectively made this, this big dream happen. On the business side, that growth has definitely helped a lot.

ESSENCE: What else do you want to tell loyal and new Hanifa fans and supporters about the brand and your latest collection?

Mvuemba: Beyond everything else, I really hope that people stop playing with Hanifa. We’re not playing any more games. I want to be recognized as a global luxury fashion brand and have people be able to see my range, as far as creativity, design, and all those things. We have full blown gowns that you could wear on a red carpet or award show, and then we have something that you can wear on vacation when you go to Jamaica. I really wanted people to see that and know that. This collection is about living out loud [and] knowing who you are. I’m stepping into that space where it’s just like, “Nah, we did that. Oh my God, thank you so much. We did that. Thank you. But we did that too.” I’m really excited about the new phase that we’re stepping into.

Pieces from the collection will be available for purchase immediately following the show on Hanifa.co .

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