Designing a gown is not just about glamour. It’s about bringing out the beauty of the person wearing it and seeing her eyes light up when she sees how beautiful she is.

This desire to make a difference in people’s lives, to raise their self-esteem and boost their confidence is what underlies Gert-Johan Coetzee’s love for the fashion world. So while this 28-year-old’s designs adorn international and local stars – from Minnie Dlamini to Thuli Madonsela – he also finds ways to use the media platform to promote awareness of serious social issues.

Thando Hopa, for example, gave a voice to people born with albinism when she became the face of his brand in 2012. His “sea-urchin” collection in 2013 highlighted the scourge of rape and also used 3D printing technology to incorporate unique 3D embellishments on the garments.

Breast cancer came into the spotlight in 2014 and, in 2015, it was HIV. Coetzee’s breakthrough came when he was spotted by TV personality Sandy Ngema and he continues to express his gratitude by creating opportunities for other aspiring designers.

He believes South Africa is teeming with talent that just needs some polish to compete internationally. His four-year bursary, now in its sixth year, has already produced successful young designers.

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