Hanifa’s 3D Fashion Show Sets the Pace for the Future of the Runway

On Friday night, May 22, the internet belonged to a black woman. Amid the usual Instagram DJ live sets, photo dumps of simpler times pre-coronavirus, and sheer boredom Tweets, Congolese designer and Hanifa founder, Anifa Mvuemba, debuted her latest collection Pink Label Congo via 3D renderings on Instagram Live. The move was in response to the uncertainty that looms over the fashion industry. In the face of the pandemic, brands have canceled shows and shifted their strategies to adapt to the times. And while the industry is no stranger to technology (the ubiquity of CGI influencer Lil Miquela is proof), the Hanifa presentation was a groundbreaking display of just what is possible in fashion’s new normal.

Still, a digital show wasn’t exactly how Mvuemba envisioned her runway debut. The self-taught designer had every intention to show this fall at NYFW before coronavirus struck. She actually first had the idea of staging a virtual runway show five years ago but considered it an ambitious pipe dream considering her knowledge in technology was limited. To familiarize herself with the world of 3D modeling she turned to the school of Google and YouTube—after all, they taught her everything she needed to know about launching a clothing brand.

“There’s so much information out there. I Google everything. I learned how to sew from Google. I’m just the type of person that when I want to learn how to do something, I’m going to learn it even if that means I have to be up 24 hours for a week straight,” she says. She studied 3D design software in between designing for Hanifa’s core collection. After completing the looks for the Pink Label Congo collection in November 2019, it wasn’t until January 2020 that she decided it was time to bring her dream of a virtual fashion show to fruition. First step? Test out the 3D models on Hanifa’s Instagram, using curvy 3D models in place of the brand’s usual real-life curvy models to tease the brand’s forthcoming offerings.

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Then, the coronavirus curveball happened. Where most independent brands would shudder in fear, Mvuemba saw an opportunity and worked round the clock to pull off a 3D fashion show that would later be dubbed “innovative,” “game-changing,” and “history-making” by viewers. But with great technology comes great responsibility—and technical difficulties. Five years of planning and seven months of execution were threatened with glitches within the first hour of Hanifa’s scheduled virtual runway debut. It’s not that she wasn’t prepared, she spent weeks testing out the show on a dummy account down to the hour before it was slated to go live on Hanifa’s official page at 7 pm EST. However, Instagram seemingly blocked the software on Hanifa’s account, forcing Mvuemba to pivot to her other page, Hanifa Bridal. Who said virtual runway shows weren’t as chaotic and stressful as real ones?

The chaos subsided as the Pink Label Congo livestream gained viewers by the hundreds. Playing on a loop, the audience gained a first-class ticket to the Democratic Republic of Congo through a mini-documentary that played moments before the show began. Clips of news articles about the coltan mines appeared on the screen informing viewers that Congo accounts for over 60% of the world’s cobalt production, and the cell phones we use every day could contain the same coltan many children and workers have to toil in the sweltering heat for little pay each day. As much as it was a fashion show, it was also a chance to educate the audience on a war plaguing a country that seems a world away but directly affects us as well.

“I wanted people to feel what people from Congo have been feeling for years: oppressed,” she explains. Media outlets don’t cover news about the illegal child labor and abuse of power in Congo, and if they do, it’s “watered down significantly,” she adds. As a Congolese designer with a platform, Anifa M. hopes to help people to see that they’re also a part of the problem and help remedy the situation. Hanifa’s Pink Label Congo show pulled in over 500 viewers.

Pink Label Congo is the second iteration of the Hanifa offshoot Pink Label, which debuted its inaugural collection on July 19, 2019. The nine-piece collection intentionally explored the juxtaposition of Congo history, marred by abuse of its citizens especially in coltan mines, and the country’s beautiful scenery woven into every thread, every color, every detail. Full-figured body-less models waltzed down the virtual runway with the Congolese-inspired collection draped around each curve and bend. The Kinshasa dress, a long-sleeved pleated mini, was dipped in the colors of the Congolese flag—red, blue, yellow.

“The red represents the pain and the blood and suffering of the country. The blue represents peace, and then the yellow star represents the hope of the country,” she explains. To represent the “poise” of Congolese women, Mvuemba designed the Zaire denim set. “All the women that I knew growing up, including my mom, were just so poised and strong. I’ve always known every auntie, every grandma, every woman that I encountered growing up to carry herself in this graceful manner and wanted Zaire to embody that strength,” she adds. The collection also features the Colette T-shirt made in partnership with the Responsible Sourcing Network. Hanifa will donate 20 percent of sales of the t-shirt to support Congolese families affected by the illegal Colton mining in Congo.

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Kinshasa Dress


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Mái Maxi Dress


As the finale look—the Mai Maxi dress fashioned after The Congo River—made its way down the runway, Twitter erupted with praise and Hanifa made its debut on Twitter’s top trending topics.

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This content is imported from Twitter. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

This content is imported from Twitter. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Accessibility has also been the touchstone of Hanifa’s collections. The Pink Label Congo show wasn’t closed off to an exclusive set of editors; it didn’t follow the standard elitist hierarchy seating, and the collection didn’t stop at sample-size. The inclusive show gave viewers of all backgrounds a front-row seat to a typically elite affair, setting the standard for what could be the start of a growing pool of fashion houses embracing technology. In the wise words of Pyer Moss’s Kerby Jean Raymond, “If you’re just learning about Hanifa, we forgive you.”

Shop the full Hanifa Pink Label Congo Collection here.

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