Kulani Nkuna
3 minute read
3 May 2014
9:00 am

Soweto Fashion Week: The long, short and average

Kulani Nkuna

The developmental thread predictably follows any endeavour that has a Soweto address.

TOO SHORT. Things did not go according to plan for Nozibele Sithebe at the casting for Soweto Fashion Week. Pictures: Nigel Sibanda

The Soweto Fashion Week is no different in that it conceals its lofty ambitions to assume the modest stance of aiming to “develop” and “grow” designers and models through the fashion week. These are admirable tenets to live by as stated by founder and director Stephen Manzini, but it is high time that the stated objectives of Soweto-based enterprises are boldly declared as world class events.

The fashion space provides ample opportunity for Manzini and company to tear away from the custodians of beauty in Europe and define in their own way how Africans see themselves.

But at the casting call for models for this year’s event the model remains intrinsically European with the judges seeming to prefer the tall and thin type of woman. The story of skin lightning creams on the continent is well-documented as mostly black women seek to adhere to a Western standard of beauty. The Soweto Fashion Week is missing an opportunity to play a part in instilling the “black is beautiful ethos” by mimicking the fashion standards of Europe.

Manzini sees it differently stating that the week comprises a mixture of skin tones, sizes and heights.

“Soweto Fashion Week is all about development and unearthing new talent,” begins Manzini.

“We want to close the demographic gap, so that everyone has a fair chance in the fashion industry. The shows differ because we have shows for plus size women, and shows for skinny ladies as well. You could say that Africans are plus sized, so we have made initiatives to make that possible so that there is a platform for everyone.”

As the models strutted their stuff one after the other, it was apparent to see that the judges indeed preferred the tall and skinny variety instead of the shorter “average” weight ladies. Manzini added that after the casting process, they go on to train the girls to make sure they are ready for the big day. And while the successful girls were quizzed after walking for the panel, some were not so lucky as was the case for Nozibele Sithebe who was not in the tall and skinny category.

“I know that in the modelling industry they usually look for tall and skinny girls,” Sithebe explained.

“I know I am not tall and skinny, but I thought that since Soweto girls are not skinny, I could have a chance. It was not to be, but I’m glad that I came and tried out none the less.”

It was also interesting to see male models in attendance but they had a more standard look, tall and athletically build. The casting also cut across the racial divide in the shape of one lone white male model in the form of Mykel Addison from Alberton.

“This was my first actual runway casting and I am really excited to have been accepted,” Addison said.

“My agent told me before hand that I was probably going to be one of the only white faces at the casting, and I told him that it was not really an issue as I have grown up in a free South Africa. I am really excited to be a part of this group.”