Hanifa puts on a virtual 3D fashion show

Anifa Mvuemba, founder of DTC fashion label Hanifa, was looking forward to holding her first runway show at New York Fashion Week this year. But when the coronavirus torpedoed those plans, she came up with a new way to unveil her latest designs to the world.

In May, she held a virtual fashion show, streamed over Instagram Live, in which each garment appeared in 3D against a black backdrop, as if worn by invisible models strutting across a catwalk, the garment hugging every curve. Tens of thousands of Hanifa’s quarter of a million followers tuned in.

The Instagram show was striking and also slightly eerie, since the garments looked like they were being worn by a parade of ghosts. But without the distraction of a backdrop or of live humans wearing the outfits, it was easier to take in every detail of the clothing. And at a time when social distancing has made the traditional fashion show impossible, Mvuemba’s high-tech approach allowed her to create buzz around her new collection and gather preorders. Thanks to the show, she says she’s likely to grow her business this year despite the recession.

Mvuemba had been tinkering with the idea for a 3D fashion show months before the pandemic arrived. She was intrigued by the realistic 3D animation that began appearing in movies and was curious about how she could apply this to fashion. Three years ago, she hired a developer who works with CAD and animation software to help her with her design work. During the pandemic, she found she had more time to play with the technology herself, especially since she had to do photoshoots remotely. This gave her the idea of creating an entire 3D fashion show.

Over the last eight years, Mvuemba has grown her direct-to-consumer brand entirely through social media and without a brick-and-mortar presence. (She was about to open her first-ever store in Baltimore this year, but those plans have been put on hold due to the pandemic.) And she’s never had a real runway show. “I think it’s hard for many black designers to make it in the system,” she says. “To make it, you have to know the right people and be in the right places. I decided to just do things my own way.”

When it came to her fans, many thought the show was groundbreaking and thrilling to watch, but some had hesitations. Some pointed out that Mvuemba is among a small group of designers that almost exclusively use black models. Transitioning to 3D shows might make her less inclined to tap these models in the future. While she notes it’s a “valid concern,” she says she’ll never “exclusively use technology to replace people. I like working with real models too much.”

Why it’s Hot:

This is such a perfect example of necessity breeding innovation. We’re increasingly seeing that businesses who are able to find innovative solutions to their challenges during COVID are uniquely positioned to succeed both now and in the future.

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