Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Harmony “Anne-Marie” Ilunga moved to Hong Kong in 2011 as a refugee. As a model, Harmony quickly identified discrimination toward people of colour. Her experience drove her to establish ‘Harmony HK’, a refugee-curated social enterprise. Together with her team, they work to raise awareness of the ways people can improve the livelihoods of refugees and ethnic minorities in Hong Kong by celebrating diversity through fashion and music.
We speak to Harmony to learn more about her journey and how she balances career and studies - all while creating a positive impact through the work of Harmony HK.
The story of ‘Harmony HK’ is incredibly inspiring and positive. Its success is something you must be very proud of. What inspired you to start ‘Harmony HK’?
As a model here for almost three years now, I have encountered several difficulties in the modelling and fashion industries. First of all, I had a casting where I was told straight to my face we preferred white models rather than black models. Another encounter happened when I was in a runway show there was a designer who didn’t want to have 2 black models in his show.
Within the time I have realised I wasn’t the only model of colour facing this. My friend who is from India had been facing the same things, as time went by I have realised these were the problem that models of colour were going through. Over the past 2 and a half years, I noticed there is a lack of diversity in Hong Kong in the fashion industry.
I was triggered to do something to improve the situations for others. ‘Harmony HK’ started because I wanted people like me to feel included and have a platform where they can share their talent because I know how it feels to not have a platform. ‘Harmony HK’ is a refugee-curated social enterprise which spotlights emerging artists from the refugee and ethnic minority communities in Hong Kong through art and fashion.
Through ‘Harmony HK’ you’re able to shine a light on the beauty of diversity and help promote fellow entrepreneurs’ creative work. Can you share a humbling experience you’ve had helping someone through your platform?
I think we have helped promote a lot of people through our platform, the list is pretty long but if I have to give a specific person, I would have to say there is a guy called Daniel who is half Philipino and Black. He started with us, the thing with Daniel is that he is very talented and he is passionate about modelling but he wasn’t sure where to start. Harmony HK was the starting point for him which helped him to gain more experience and now he is working with different brands around Hong Kong such as Hypebeast.
How are you able to balance Harmony, your creative freelance work all while pursuing an education in Psychology at the same time?
It is definitely not easy, especially as my degree is coming to an end, it gets especially difficult when I have exams approaching alongside the Harmony Fashion Show. I have a schedule that I follow, I have learned that discipline is important and the strongest form of bigger rewards.
I wake up at 5.30 am to start my day. When I wake up I tend to check my emails and focus on Harmony HK until my first class starts at 8.30 am. Weekdays are mostly for my university and I tend to do my freelancing during weekends and sometimes after my classes on weekdays. Organising everything is pretty hectic but timetables and an organised diary help me get by.
What’s your ultimate goal for Harmony and what can we expect from you next?
Our goal for Harmony HK is to expand Harmony HK around Hong Kong & Asia to celebrate diversity and inclusion. Our aim is to see when these talents on national media not just on Harmony HK, once more ethnic minorities and refugees are seen on mass media making news for talents not crimes that’s our goal.
For what’s next all I can say now is that we are preparing for our third show which will be hosted on December 7th at Kafnu, Kerry Hotel where our theme for this year is Vintage. We are excited about this upcoming show because we are looking forward to sharing with you what vintage means to us - a diverse group of models and people - and how we interpret it in our own words.
The rest is a secret, I like to surprise people with what Harmony HK is working on so just stay tuned!
How would you describe your style and how have your experiences shaped that?
Frankly speaking, I don’t think I have a specific style that I can address that this is my exact style. I dress up according to my mood, the weather and how I feel on that day. I like to be different, that's all I can say, I like to explore different things in fashion and try new things, style it the way I am feeling. That’s the fun part of fashion, you know. I like to explore different and new things and see what fits and what does not fit for me. That’s the fun part of me styling myself.
Who is your style muse?
Rihanna, definitely, because her style and the way she carries herself reflects on her personality; which I aim to show through my own style too. Her style is sophisticated and mature which is also what I love showing personally too.
Tell us more about how you will be styling our pieces from The R Collective?
The R Collective has tons of amazing and beautiful pieces of designs. I like to relax and move around with the moods and style it in, mix n’ match and restyling which will make it more sophisticated.
Learn more about Harmony HK.