Wel Come To The NEW Age
“competition is healthy. Collaboration is powerful.” With these six words, Thando Hopa, 29, poignantly sums up the message behind the cover of our September issue. “She’s so smart, everything she says is quotable,” gushes fellow cover star Nadia Nakai – and she’s not wrong. A model, actress, lawyer and writer, Thando responds to each question with the eloquence of someone addressing a gathering of scholars. “Women drawing strength from one another is a way of life. You don’t need to know someone to empower them. When you give power to a woman, it takes nothing from you.”
Thando comes across as mature and evolved in so many ways: how she thinks, how she speaks, the way she deals with her emotions – no doubt a result of a lifetime of combating society’s ignorance. Cautious and measured, yet passionate and sincere, she utters every word with intent, while sitting in the hair and makeup chair at Flash Studios. The hairstylist tells her to face forward, but she can’t help but look up at me when she speaks, as if to verify that her message is being received clearly – it is. When asked about her activism and why she felt the responsibility of taking on that role, she responds by saying that being an activist is not something she does, but rather who she is. “A series of initiations in my life lead me to this point,” she explains. “These took place in different aspects of my life: in my womanhood, my African-ness and my albinism.
“I remember once, on my way to school, a woman was so taken aback by my appearance she told me that I was the devil’s child. That’s the kind of ignorance I was exposed to on a daily basis, and that’s how I arrived at this point. I’m trying to humanise albinism, but I also represent a larger message of diversity and representation.” Amongst the likes of models Duckie Thot, Shahira Yusuf and Winnie Harlow, the face of fashion is evolving from the rigid blueprint that has excluded large groups of women for years. In 2012, she became the muse of famed SA designer Gert-johan Coetzee after catching his eye while strolling through the mall. She’s since done campaigns for mega brands like Audi, and the 2018 Pirelli Calendar alongside Naomi Campbell, Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs and Whoopi Goldberg. Thando acknowledges the importance of her role in showcasing a different kind of beauty. “My intention is to portray a beauty variation, not uphold an imposed beauty standard. It’s important that young boys and girls who look like me understand that they are beautiful, too. That’s why I try to keep my look as authentic as possible.”
But in the beginning, it wasn’t always as easy for her to embrace this version of herself. “I remember when I was doing a shoot for Forbes, they wanted a clean look, so they stripped me down of all makeup and, to be honest, I was terrified to even look at myself. In that moment, I realised that my confidence stemmed from validation and not from within.” It’s evident now that she has come a long way in her journey of self-acceptance. “Now I feel that it’s important for me to keep my hair natural and my eyebrows light. Because of my hyper-visibility in the industry, I’m representing more than just myself, but others who look this way as well,” she adds. I watch in awe as she creates different angles with her body, and as soon as the photographer says he’s got the shot, she walks off without looking at the photo reel. Her level of self-assurance is admirable. “I’m enough,” she responds when I ask her about this trait. “I remove negative thoughts and speak kindly to myself – it’s an important part of my self-love journey,” she says. And another part of that selflove is allowing herself to just be. If she’s sad, she allows herself to cry, because tears do not equate to weakness. “I would cry now if I needed to, and then I move on.”
Between shots, touch-ups and wardrobe changes, it begins to get increasingly easier to pick up where we left off, and more of her personality starts to shine through as the day progresses. There’s an endearing playfulness about her; laughing every time I try to press for information about dating or romance. “Right now, my career feels like my child. There’s no space for anything that requires commitment in terms of a relationship,” she says. Having signed to acclaimed agency New York Model Management and received a working visa for the US, Thando’s career is on the up and up. “I love modelling, but I’m also passionate about acting. I want to change the stereotype and open up how people with albinism are portrayed, especially in film.” Model Slick Woods, who stars in the Pirelli Calendar alongside Thando, has said, “We’re not one thing.” Thando agrees, “Those words resonate with me, because albinism is a condition I fought hard to love, but there is more to me than that. I never want to feel imprisoned in my skin.” ➻
“i’m a very shy person,” are one of the first words she says to me – and I’m taken aback. I was first introduced to rapper Nadia Nakai, 28, through her verse on the remix of Kwesta’s song ‘Do like I do’. Even back then, I remember being struck. Not only by her ability to deliver bars that were on par with those of more experienced male artists, but the attitude with which she did it. “I was always reserved, even at school I would wear longsleeved polo necks and cover up as much of myself as I could. To this day, my mom is shocked when she sees me, because that’s not the daughter she knows and raised,” she says.
We’re on set of our shoot, and I have the luxury of spending the day with ‘Bragga’ to get a real sense of who she is. I’m impressed by her ability to turn on the superstar persona for the camera with ease. There are around 25 people watching, but she is unfazed by the attention. However, as soon as she moves outof-view of the photographer’s lense, she becomes just Nadia: a peer, a normal girl. But long gone are her days of high-neck sweaters. “This gives me very Left-eye vibes,” she says while admiring one of the looks she’ll be dressed in – a pair of oversized brocade trousers from Ruff Tung, accompanied by a twill jacket from Selfi. She loves clothes that make a statement. “When I say I’m a feminist, I mean that I want to be one of those people who break through the barriers imposed on women,” she says. “We should be as liberal as we want to be in the way we dress, embracing our thighs, hips, stretch marks and imperfections, especially here in Africa.”
She’s becoming a prominent figure in the fashion industry and takes this role very seriously. Having launched her Bragga merchandise in early 2017, she has even bigger things in the works. “I’ve partnered with Sportscene and will be releasing a new clothing line,” she says. “I was 100% involved in every step. I created moodboards, picked out the fabric and met everyone involved,” she explains. Her performance outfits are also a big part of the Nadia Nakai brand, and she is particular when selecting those as well. Admittedly, this has created a bit of an unrealistic expectation. “I’ll be grocery shopping and bump into my fans, and they’re like, ‘Why aren’t you wearing your plunging-neckline bodysuit?’ And I’m just like, ‘Really guys? I’m at Checkers,’” she says incredulously.
I’m intrigued by Nadia’s ability to be vulnerable in a room full of people she only met this morning. “I’ll admit fan encounters can be nerve-racking sometimes, especially after that whole no-makeup-challenge hashtag in February,” she says. A bare-faced picture of Nadia began to circulate and caused a stir on social media. Attacks on her appearance were vicious. “Even this morning at the airport a fan asked for a photo, and I thought to myself, ‘Urgh, I wish I had done my eyebrows.’ But at the end of the day, these are my supporters and I can’t let them down.” When I ask her how she deals with all the negativity, she stresses the importance of being surrounded by the right people. “I swear people look at me and think I’m a robot who has no feelings,” she says. “Sometimes you get so caught up in it that you start believing what’s being said and that can really weigh you down, but my friends always help to pick me back up,” she says. “I call on people that are in the industry that have gone through worse to ask them for advice. Sometimes you think it’s only you that gets bad press, or negative comments, but it happens to everyone.”
One of those supportive people is her boyfriend, Bandile Mbere, 27, of the famous DJ duo Major League. “He helps me a lot with everything. In terms of music, he understands the sounds that work, but he also knows how hostile the industry can be. It’s always good to have someone who wants to guide you to success and is not trying to suppress you.” But it’s impossible to not let certain things get to you when you care about someone, either. “I’ll be like, ‘Why didn’t you like my post?’ or ‘Why are you liking this random girl’s bikini pics on Instagram?’ And he’ll say, ‘I’m a DJ, that’s my job, I have to maintain relationships with the fly honeys in Joburg so they can come to my gigs.’”
Nadia doesn’t mind people being curious about her personal life, as it’s part of the lifestyle she chose. “I don’t just want to be a musician, I want to be a superstar. I want you to care about what I’m doing, what I’m eating, where I’m going.” She emphasises the importance of believing in yourself, and when I ask her if she thinks she’s the best female rapper in SA, she responds without hesitation. “Of course I’m the best. Everyone should think that about themselves. If you believe you’re the best and act like you’re the best, then you will be.”