Anifa Mvuemba had major plans to showcase her fashion line, Hanifa, at New York Fashion Week for the first time and was looking forward to doing so. However, once the coronavirus pandemic struck, the major fashion event was canceled, leaving Mvuemba to envision another way to highlight her brand. She put her creative mind to work and came up with a trailblazing, futuristic idea that ultimately sparked discussions about the future of the fashion world.
The designer used stunning 3D technology to show off her clothes on Instagram TV, garnering instant attention across the globe. After her innovative show captivated the world, what could be next for Mvuemba and other fashion labels?
Pink Label Congo: Mvuemba Blends Heritage, Necessity and Technology
Twenty-nine-year-old Mvuemba migrated to the United States with her family from the Democratic Republic of the Congo when she was a toddler, and she specifically draws from her heritage as she creates. The young designer’s home country and the “gentleness, beauty, history, poise, majesty, strength, power and hope of the Congolese spirit” served as the primary inspirations for her Pink Label Congo collection, which she created under the umbrella of her main fashion line, Hanifa, that launched in 2012. The well-rounded Pink Label Congo line features maxi dresses, one-shoulder tops, jumpsuits, skirts and other pieces in sizes ranging from 0 to 20.
“When creating each piece, I was reminded of the stories my mother told me of the women she knew back home in Congo. Women who suffered great loss but still mustered every ounce of strength every day to show up,” the designer shared on the brand’s Instagram page. “My hope is that this collection inspires all women to stand tall in their power and like the Democratic Republic of Congo, to use their history, whether pretty or painful — to redesign their future.” The designer kept women in mind as she worked to create a groundbreaking show for her collection.
After her Fashion Week dream was cut short, Mvuemba came up with a unique idea: use motion technology instead of living, breathing people to display clothes. She already loved the idea of realistic 3D animation and had looked into utilizing this technique in her work before the pandemic hit. While working with a developer on using animation software for her designs, Mvuemba was experimenting with the technology herself during quarantine. A solution clicked, and the idea to host a 3D show that everyone, not just Fashion Week attendees, could safely watch right from their homes was born.
Mvuemba’s Digital Innovations Take to the Screen
Though the idea was genius, the work behind the scenes to pull this off was painstaking, according to the designer. In order to make this happen, Mvuemba had to turn each outfit she had designed for Pink Label Congo into a 3D image. Those images then had to be perfectly fitted on the body of an avatar in order for the garments not to slide off while the avatars were in motion.
After working out the kinks, the designer posted her own virtual fashion show for the collection on IGTV, Instagram’s standalone video application. The show appeared to be a real, in-person event, except there were no actual models on the runway. “I wanted it to happen in real-time so that viewers could experience it the way they would at a real fashion show,” Mvuemba told Fast Company. “If you were there, you were there.”
The Instagram show was eerie yet captivating, with the avatars looking like a line of invisible bodies filling the garments and showcasing the movement of each of Mvuemba’s designs. But the focus quickly pivoted away from the avatars’ novelty factor; without human models wearing the clothing, the colors and details of each outfit came to life, popping out against the black backdrop the designer used. Because the avatars added shape to the clothes but were invisible, viewers could see some of the detailing and sewn construction inside the garments, too.
The virtual show quickly went viral, with people around the globe seeing Mvuemba’s designs for the first time. The amount of attention this innovative show garnered ultimately helped her grow her business in spite of the pandemic causing commerce to come to a standstill. Pink Label Congo sold out, and Mvuemba signed with Black-owned public relations firm The Hinton Group to represent Hanifa.
How Will the Coronavirus Pandemic and Digital Models Impact the Fashion Industry?
Both Hanifa’s virtual fashion show and the effects of coronavirus around the world have many style experts and buyers contemplating what the fashion world will look like once the pandemic subsides and the industry is able to return to something that resembles normal operations. There will certainly have to be major changes, especially at first.
Consider just the idea of social distancing with in-person events like runway shows. How far apart will people have to be spaced at these events, and how many will even be allowed into an event space? Is it possible, especially with the success of Mvuemba’s show, that more runway shows and other fashion events will become virtual? With the use of remote event platforms like BigMarker and Hopin, it’s possible that fashion houses and agencies could host events for more people to join from across the world at home.
With this 3D technology, it could be possible that fewer models will be used for shows — and some critics may see this as a step back for representation. While many were inspired and excited by Mvuemba’s incredible event, others were nervous about what it could mean for the future. Some mentioned the fact that Mvuemba is one of a few designers who use almost all Black models in their shows.
If more designers switch over to 3D shows, it could not only take away jobs from models of underrepresented races and sizes, but it could also limit representation of more diverse models in fashion as a whole. This is something that the industry is really only beginning to focus on, with much of the effort coming from indie designers — and fashion should be striving for more racial diversity, not bypassing it for digital innovation. Mvuemba has acknowledged this as a “valid concern” but also assured supporters that she would never “exclusively use technology to replace people. I like working with real models too much.”
The Fashion World Reckons With Long-Term Changes — Not Just Invisible Avatars
Like many industries, the fashion industry has taken a hard hit because of the coronavirus pandemic. Clothing sales have plummeted by 34% since much of the world became unable to shop at malls or stores. Designers, and brick-and-mortar shops especially, may have to consider creating or updating websites to sell apparel and accessories online. They’ll also have to think seriously about expanding their size ranges to keep up with growing calls from consumers for more diversity and size inclusivity.
Another major consideration for the future? Sustainability. The immense pollution that the fashion industry is responsible for — particularly the “fast fashion” industry — has been a conversation for quite some time. The industry’s manufacturing and other activities produce about 1.2 billion tons of carbon emissions per year. “[The coronavirus] is going to accelerate the fashion industry’s engagement with digital technology, and its desire to rethink the fashion calendar, but it will also accelerate the approach to sustainability and building responsible businesses,” Anna Wintour said in an interview. “That means using supply chains that are creating clothing in a circular way and tak[ing] into account the impact on the planet and the people who make our clothes.” It appears that, after this pandemic ends, the fashion industry will have to make major changes to keep up with a future and with consumers that are both demanding more.