Kwa-Thema Fashion Week – The stories behind the story

As I made my way to the entrance of the Kwa-Thema hall on Saturday evening, the first person I saw was Nkosinathi Zwane, co-founder and creative director of Kwa-Thema Fashion Week.

He greeted me with an eager smile, it was easy to tell from his relaxed posture that he had done this before. The atmosphere was filled with excitement and I could not wait to see, first hand, what the Kwa-Thema Fashion Week was really about.

The hall had scores of people from every age group and breed – creating an intriguing, breathable air. The walls were lined with stalls from stylists, potters, clothing printers and clothing brands. It was refreshing to see that the fashion show gave everyone who was willing, an opportunity to showcase their work. It was not exclusive to the runway, but to all things design. What’s more is that these creatives stemmed from across all corners of Ekurhuleni, Nkosinathi has managed to create a buzz for himself and his brand beyond Kwatsaduza.

Khethiwe Phakathi, an Alberton-based natural hair salon owner and accessory stylist, shared a stall with her cousin, Katlehong-based stylist, Tshepiso Ngwenya. Khethiwe found out about the fashion show on Facebook and immediately jumped on the opportunity to exhibit their vintage-inspired work.

“The difference between us and other stylists is that we work together. Like I said, with my cousin, she does your personal shopping, she doesn’t just give you any and every thrift wear. She sits down and finds out your preferred style, what you enjoy doing, what you don’t, what you like wearing – then she shops for you and styles you,” Khethiwe states.

Tshepiso seemed to be the shyer partner of the two, letting her work speak for itself. I asked her how she felt about Kwa-Thema and the fashion show, and she shyly but enthusiastically said, “We are loving the whole branding of the fashion show, the setting is really good and the vibe and organizers are amazing.” The pair seemed especially excited to have met some of the designers.

As I made my way around the hall taking in all the work being done, the busy bodies around me and the real fascination of the runway from the crowd – I stumbled onto another interesting stall.

Mandlatwala Ceramics stood out from the scores of clothing like a gorgeous sore thumb, weird I know. Kenneth Mandlenkosi Twala makes ceramic pottery and started his career in ceramics in 1998. He decided to open his own business in 2002, supplying a few shops and even managing to supply a shop in London in 2005.

Mandlenkosi Twala of MandlaTwala Ceramics

“This is a new series called Abanguni, which started in 2008. The series of Abanguni depicts me as umnguni (black African). What depicts mostly that this is Abanguni is the blemished colours that are on the pottery. This is achieved by using fire on these vases in a traditional way, using umlilo waphansti (reduction firing) and newspapers only. I believe that recreation has to be something that you cannot buy, so it can be something you’re proud of, you need to reinvent as an artist,” says Kenneth.

Kenneth uses raw material that he collects on the streets, spending money only on glaze and paint. This is an artist who is truly dedicated to his work. Kenneth says he started his career from crime; when asked to elaborate he says, “You know when you tell your mama that you’re going to do art they complain and ask why you can’t you be a doctor or nurse or lawyer. ‘What are we going to eat, do you think anyone will marry you when you’re busy getting dirty?’ they say. So to me art is a crime because everyone always told me I wouldn’t be successful with art. But my crime made me who I am today.”

I eventually had to pull myself away from the stalls and return to my seat to witness the main event, which is after all what we were all there for.

Not only was the fashion versatile but so were the models. I noticed that almost all the designers catered for all body types. There was nothing left to chance, they knew and understood their market. After watching a few strides down the runway I made my way backstage, and the first designer I ran into was pacing around nervously.

Xoli Madlala started her career in design as a hobby before qualifying as an image consultant which catapulted her into deciding on having a clothing line. Her love for African print became a logical reason for her to focus on that look for her line.

“My thing is that African print should be everyday wear and not just for special occasions, that’s why I focus on making easy-to-wear clothing. I pay attention to detail and my finishings are amazing, and I get my fabrics from Ghana because the quality of fabric is great,” says Xoli, who had dressed herself.

A designer who is inspired by everything from nature, humans and life itself, Nonkululeko ‘Nkulie’ Twala believes that art is everything. “I do me, that’s what I do different,” Nonkululeko says. When I ask her to explain, she says she designs clothing that is futuristic with an artsy feel, incorporating an African feel with a very modern and technological touch. “I make fashion for daily life and everyday wear – if you feel like you’re brave enough. I think fashion is an expression, which sounds like a cliché, but I try to be versatile and cater for all occasions.”

Nkulie Twala, fashion designer

According to Nonkululeko, a brave person is someone who is not afraid of wearing clothes that stand out, clothes that may make people think twice when they speak to you. “Material that isn’t usually used for making clothing – I use that. I like to challenge the status quo, that’s what I do when I make clothing, I try to challenge the system,” Nkulie states.

The night was brought to life by an amazing performance by Kwa-Thema-based drummers, 1575Drummers, who had the crowd magnetized with a synchronized drumming performance.

“People elokshini (township) think drumming is just for church, it’s hard for us to get them to take us seriously. So this is a great opportunity for us to showcase our talent,” says Siphesihle Xepu, one of the drummers.

I could write a whole book about the night and what it means for local aspiring creatives. Simply put, Kwa-Thema Fashion Week continues to show locals that anything is possible, that age is just a number and any place could be turned into an oasis for creativity if you put in the hard work.

If I were to take anything from these stories, it is that believing in yourself goes a long way to achieving success.