Black creators are setting the trends, moving the needle and informing where the worlds of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle are headed. In our series, Shop Black, we talk to entrepreneurs about their journeys, their brands and the realities of being Black business owners. Through ‘Shop Black’ you’ll be introduced to some game-changing style stars and have the opportunity to shop and support their work.
Chances are that if you follow any Black, fashionable “It Girls” on Instagram you’ve come across Hanifa
at least once. The buzzy Maryland-based brand, created by Anifa Mvuemba, is a favorite among on-the-go women who want sleek, sophisticated clothes that fit their curves. Since launching her company in 2011, Mvuemba hasn’t looked back or showed any signs of slowing down. The powerhouse sat down to chat with ESSENCE about her path to entrepreneurship, her biggest victories, and the most popular looks from her current collection.
: Maryland, USA
Tell us a bit about your journey to Hanifa:
Since I was a young girl, I’ve always known that I wanted to be in fashion. I grew up watching how fascinated my mother was with big brands and all things fashion. Her sophisticated but effortless style truly inspired my passion for fashion.
In my junior year of high school, I was interested in design when I got my first sewing machine for Christmas. At that time, I was also in a fashion design class. I would go to the thrift store often and head straight to the men’s s section. I didn’t have curves then, so I would alter and tailor oversized men’s shirts at the waist. It has always been important to me to have balance when putting together different looks and styles. From there, I grew into developing more clothing pieces, with my beginner sewing skills.
By my 21st birthday, I developed those basic sewing skills into creating myself a customized dress for a party. Around that time, I dropped out of college and quit my decent paying retail job. I was just unhappy with where my life was. I always held on to my vision to grow my sewing skills into something bigger. So, I took a picture of myself in my custom dress, posted it on Instagram and got 40 likes which was huge in those days! Soon after that, my mom encouraged me to turn my hobby into a business.
Describe Hanifa with a song title:
Cherish The Day x Sade
What’s the most challenging part of being a Black woman entrepreneur?
You have to work extremely hard. No one takes you seriously as a black woman entrepreneur until they see what you have – until they see your image. With the influence of social media, there are expectations of how we are supposed to act, look and even speak, which can be exhausting. My signature has been to use my designs and images as a tool of communication and expression. I want people to support and shop Hanifa not because of my image, but because they genuinely love the clothes.
What has been your biggest victory thus far?
Opening my very first storefront! As cliche as it sounds, every time I walk through my store and see my designs on display, I feel like I’m dreaming.
Advice to aspiring designers?
Your vision will always remind you of why you started, and your passion will always keep you going.
Who or what has been your biggest creative inspiration?
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with shapes and colors. I’m always inspired by the magic and exuberance of black women. I make sure to always include us in all and everything that I do with Hanifa.
How are you making your mark on Black history?
I want to show that being a woman of African descent, of Congolese and Kenyan heritage, that a black woman can be different, unique and unconventional. Being multi-dimensional makes each of us special, and we don’t have to fit in a certain box of being black. Black is beautiful, but being who you are is astonishing.
Favorite pieces from your current line and why?
Currently, MIYA and the AVA pants are my favorite Hanifa pieces.
MIYA because it’s so versatile and it accommodates every shape, size, color, and age.
AVA because it’s so fun, eclectic and just a great statement piece.