Interviewed by Jane Folodi
All Photography by Kyara Schutter
Q: What role has fashion played in your life?
A: When people do not understand you, they tend to fail at interpreting who you are. They would rather mock you or bring you down to their level. I have always loved fashion. I always loved looking good and being clean. Sometimes it came across as feminine to others. But taking care of myself mentally, physically and spiritually has always been something that I appreciated from an early age.
Q: What does style mean to you?
A: Fashion is me. I depend on fashion to know where I stand in life. I define myself with what I wear. I want to challenge the stereotype of how a black person is seen especially how we as black people are portrayed in mainstream media. Every time you watch a movie a black person is portrayed as a criminal, thug, drug dealer/ addict. It’s always stereotypical and dripping with negative connotations.
Looking good is already a step forward. Every black person has their distinct way of challenging this stereotype. To me, it has always been fashion because style is a non-verbal statement. As the saying goes, “You dress the way you want to be addressed”.
|”We see a repetitive and manufactured image of Black masculinity, a monolithic representation of Black male identity that dominates mainstream media from here, to Europe, Africa, and back.” – Shantrelle P. Lewis |
Q: Where do you get your style inspiration from?
A: When other kids my age were playing sports, I was mesmerised by shows that involved high society, fashion, glamour and art. Don’t get me wrong I played with other kids! As I grew up and started to learn more about fashion, I always looked up to both local and international fashion trailblazers such as Tommy Hilfiger, Giorgio Armani, Jenny Vuitton and Louis Vuitton. It just opened my mind to an entirely different world.
I was always astonished to look at them doing what they love and still look good while they are doing it. I always told myself that I want to be where they are and that I want to experience that life while also helping others who would like to pursue a similar career path. I am not letting anything or anyone to get in my way.
Q: What was the highlight of your career?
A: I can’t pinpoint one moment. I work very hard to be where I am. Every day when I wake up, I take a step closer towards my dream, and that is a highlight. It’s a constant drive to be more and do more. Sometimes people were afraid of my dreams to a point where I would want to dim my own light so that I could get to their level.
Sometimes people would tell me, don’t think that you’re famous now. Don’t think highly of yourself. That’s why it has been difficult for me to know if I have made it or not. But today, when I look back, I realise that I have been in this industry for a long time but I was too humbled and afraid to embrace it. There is a very fine line between confidence and arrogance. I have always feared that people would think that I am too arrogant when I start embracing the power and influence that I have worked hard for.
Q: Take us through your wardrobe. What accessories complement your signature style?
A: Every person has to have a signature style. Am I saying that you should stick to one style? No. I am saying that you should find a piece that you love and always incorporate it into your look. Fashion has trends that everyone follows but trends come and go. There is nothing unique about them. But style is your personal signature. Find something that works for you and have fun. Style and fashion shouldn’t be restrictive.
Fine details: Floral pocket square, my watch and I am out the door! Accessories I prefer is a watch (it works for every occasion: streetwear, formal or sportswear). Always wear a watch. It’s amazing how a small gadget like a watch can change your whole outfit and give you character, especially as a man in the 21st century.
I thrive on details. When it comes to formal wear, my look is not complete unless it has a pocket square. If the focus is on the suit, then the suit is wearing you and you’re not wearing the suit.
Q: Which animal best reflects your fashion style or personality?
A: [Laughs] A rhino. Normally you would expect a person to respond with a lion or an elephant. But the reason why I say a rhino is that I have been told by those who know me well that I am a humble human being. What I like about rhinos is that they’re giant and statured animals but humble at heart and they mind their own business.
I also charge when I am being ‘charged’. Just like a rhino, I am a beast when I am cornered and I tend to retaliate. I do not let anyone disrespect me, to tell me what to think or how to think because I never put people in that box.
A: What was the worst date you have ever experienced?
It happened way back. It was strange when it happened. I was asked to go on a date by this lady, and I agreed because I had a crush on her too. We went to this restaurant, had great laughs, a good meal and an interesting conversation and it was time to leave. When the bill arrived, she pushed it over to me. To my surprise, she had asked me out on a date but now she pushed the bill over to me? I was stunned. I never perspired so much in my life. I didn’t expect it but luckily I had my wallet.
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Q: What are your predictions on the future of fashion?
A: I love how men are starting to look after themselves – their physique and how they present themselves. They’re now getting into afro- dandyism and dapper wear. They are starting to realise that respect comes with your look. Fashion is now moving to slim fit clothing for men, consumers are now starting to become more aware of what they’re wearing.
There are now initiatives such as sustainable fashion for consumers who are now concerned about who designed their clothing, if it’s environmentally conscious and most importantly if the clothing has a lifespan after they wear it.
I am intrigued by creatives who are now revolutionising African-dandyism, they’re bringing more prints into it. Creatives from all over the world are now having fun with styling clothes; they’re breaking all the stereotypes.
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For example, back in the day, a suit was restricted to a shirt, tie and formal shoes. But today, you can wear your sneakers and a casual t-shirt with your suits which is risky but if done right it can look very good.
Q: Is there an opportunity for aspiring young stylists to get involved?
A: I really appreciate young people who look out for each other. I fought tooth and nail to get to where I am today. I didn’t have connections in the industry; the only support I received was from friends and family. Everything else was Zola Msizi grinding. If there is a young person who is willing to work hard to make it in the fashion industry, I am more than happy to avail my time, skills expertise and connections to help.
It’s always good to have a brother/friend in the industry who will help guide and mentor you. I will also feel fulfilled to help a young person because I’d know that another black person somewhere has made it and I was part of their success.
Q: How can parents support children who have dreams of entering the fashion industry?
A: Pursue what you love. Never fear to be who you really want to become. Sometimes people might try to dishearten you. Ignore all of that and focus on the bigger goal. Have fun and be willing to break fashion rules and stereotypes because if you’re not willing to do that, you lose your X-factor that will make you stand out from the crowd.
Parents don’t like talk. You can talk a big game but without actions, parents won’t understand. But once you start pushing yourself and showing them results then your parents will understand that you can make a career out of fashion. Remember our parents were not fortunate to have information tools such as the internet and they didn’t even have the occupational opportunities we have due to our political history. Therefore it’s your responsibility to push, bring results and show them that you’re hungry for this industry and they will start supporting you.
Q: What are some of the misconceptions that society has about stylists and does it have an element of truth?
The common misconception is that clients tend to assume that stylists bring them clothes and they give you the clothes. But the truth is that as a stylist, my job is to make you look good.
Here is an overview of what I normally do with clients.
1. I enquire about your budget because the client has to buy the clothes.
2. We have a meeting and I find out what you want and I give you recommendations on what will work and pitch it to you.
3. If you’re happy as a client, we hit the stores and we go purchase the clothes. Alternatively, we can use your old clothes and pair them differently to suit your expectations.
The hardest thing about being a stylist is that sometimes you style a client that has a completely different sense of style so you are required to switch mentally so that you can best assist your client.
Q: Is there a project that you’re currently working on?
A: I have started broadening my styling career not only to males but I am now also styling females. In this industry, it’s important that you become versatile and always know the in’s and out’s so that you survive and evolve with the times. It’s quite challenging to style females because most females have a specific style that they want to stick with. It is very difficult to convince them to change their style or even add a few items to pronounce or translate it more. However, I enjoy the challenge because it helps me step out of my comfort zone and explore more.
Q: Who are some of the most famous people you enjoyed working with and why?
A: I have worked with a lot of people throughout my career both locally and internationally. I appreciate working with all of them because they have each contributed towards my growth. To mention a few, Menzi Mcunu (founder of an Afro-Centric gentleman) who designs tailored suits and AON.
Q: How do clients get in touch with you?
A: Facebook: Zola Msizi
Email: [email protected]