A post-fi­nale in­ter­view with Project Run­way SA Sea­son 1 win­ner Kentse Masilo, whose fash­ion de­sign­ing jour­ney is tak­ing her from North West Prov­ince to New York – and be­yond

Destiny - - Project Runway Sa - BY Kim Garner

"W hile I was stand­ing there waiting for the an­nounce­ment, I was think­ing about how long I’ve waited for this and why it was so im­por­tant to fight with ev­ery­thing I had to suc­ceed. When my name was an­nounced, I knew in­stantly that my dream had turned into re­al­ity,” says Masilo (26), re­call­ing the mo­ment she was named the first-ever win­ner of Project Run­way SA.

Be­sides thou­sands of rands in gifts and op­por­tu­ni­ties, the prize will see her jet­ting off to France to show­case her work at Paris Fash­ion Week, as well as vis­it­ing New York Fash­ion Week. Not bad for a de­signer from the lit­tle North West town of Bethanie.

The re­al­ity show was a gru­elling 13-week process that saw 12 con­tes­tants bat­tle it out in weekly de­sign chal­lenges and present a fi­nal range to the judges, who in­cluded Noni Gasa, Rahim Raw­jee and Khanyi Dhlomo. Gert-Johan Coet­zee, fash­ion de­signer to the stars, men­tored the con­tenders through the process. How­ever, Masilo stood out from the start, win­ning the first two chal­lenges off the bat and go­ing on to win two more. She con­sis­tently im­pressed the judges so much, in fact, that Twit­ter fans started call­ing it The Kentse Show. She tells us about her fu­tur­is­tic ap­proach to fash­ion, de­sign­ing for women in her com­mu­nity and what’s next for her fash­ion busi­ness.

Let’s start by say­ing: con­grat­u­la­tions, Kentse! Thank you! I’m still try­ing to find the right words to ex­plain what hap­pened to me up there. But I was filled with grat­i­tude, be­cause stand­ing in front of four in­spir­ing in­di­vid­u­als [judges] – as they ba­si­cally told me that they be­lieve in me – felt in­cred­i­ble.

The judges clearly be­lieved in you from the start. You won so many chal­lenges. I be­lieve it was be­cause of my point of view, as well as my aes­thetic as a

fu­tur­is­tic de­signer. The judges saw some­thing in me which I’ve al­ways be­lieved in, but feared would be mis­un­der­stood. Project Run­way SA has em­pow­ered me and given me the op­por­tu­nity to change my own life, as well as the lives of those close to me. There are many re­spon­si­bil­i­ties, not just in fash­ion, but in my com­mu­nity too.

Is that why you went back to Bethanie af­ter study­ing? When I moved back home af­ter grad­u­at­ing, my fam­ily thought that was it: I was now a seam­stress. When my friends asked me: “Why did you go back to Bethanie?”, my re­ply was al­ways: “If I can’t dress the peo­ple in my village, how am I ever go­ing to dress the peo­ple in Paris?” That’s some­thing I learnt from Coco Chanel: be­fore she be­came the great­est de­signer who ever lived, she dressed the women around her. That’s how she rev­o­lu­tionised fash­ion. That’s al­ways been my drive. Can you imag­ine how the women in my com­mu­nity feel now that I’ll get to pop up in Paris!?

You must have faced many chal­lenges on the show. The one-day chal­lenge left me shaken. We had less than 24 hours to de­sign, buy fab­ric, shop and con­struct our gar­ments. The fun­ni­est part of it all was when I looked into my com­peti­tors’ eyes for val­i­da­tion, only to re­alise they were all see­ing flames too! I wouldn’t trade that for any­thing. I still laugh when I think about all the crazy scenes that weren’t cap­tured on cam­era.

What was your high point? Win­ning the team chal­lenge with Stephan and hear­ing Khanyi Dhlomo say she’d wear my shirt. I was speech­less!

How did the Project Run­way SA jour­ney dif­fer from what you imag­ined it would be? The re­veal­ing of our judges and hosts was a pleas­ant sur­prise and, hon­estly, even when I got bad crit­i­cism, I still went to bed very grate­ful. Run­way days were sur­real for me: I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of be­ing part of the same show I’d of­ten watched at home, with dreams of mak­ing it. One thing I didn’t an­tic­i­pate was the level of ex­haus­tion I felt dur­ing chal­lenges. Things be­came in­tense when there were just six con­tes­tants left.

Stress­ful times like that can re­ally teach one about one­self. Yes, they can. I’m very pro­tec­tive of my dream and I’m not afraid to ad­mit how hun­gry I am for suc­cess. I learnt that I’m re­silient, be­cause when I did badly in the com­pe­ti­tion, I took a step back and tried again un­til I got it right. I also learnt that de­sign­ers have to stand firm in their be­liefs, stay true to who they are and be open-minded enough to take di­rec­tion, es­pe­cially from those who’ve done it longer. That’s growth.

Gert-Johan Coet­zee also of­fered a lot of di­rec­tion. Gert taught me many things, in­clud­ing how to ma­nip­u­late pat­terns. But the big­gest les­son I learnt from him was how to push bound­aries, with­out doubt­ing my cre­ative abil­ity. For so long I’ve been seek­ing a men­tor who not only understands busi­ness, but is some­one I can re­late to. Gert’s jour­ney in fash­ion in­spires me and he’s very sup­port­ive. He en­cour­aged me to be great.

Did any of the other con­tes­tants in­spire you too? I got to know Gift and loved ev­ery­thing about him. He knows his truth and isn’t apolo­getic about who he is. I find that very re­fresh­ing. Sandile is also some­one I’ve grown to ap­pre­ci­ate; he has a strong per­son­al­ity and is very car­ing to­wards those he likes. He doesn’t bother with pre­tence.

How are you plan­ning to grow your brand and fash­ion busi­ness? I’m plan­ning to utilise this op­por­tu­nity to grow a sus­tain­able busi­ness, fo­cus­ing on tex­tiles, tech­nol­ogy and dis­tri­bu­tion. I also want to cre­ate jobs for young in­di­vid­u­als. I’m look­ing forward to de­sign col­lab­o­ra­tions with artists and cor­po­rate com­pa­nies to com­pete on an in­ter­na­tional level. I in­tend to ded­i­cate my time to the study of tech­nol­ogy in fash­ion, which aims to pro­vide so­lu­tions and con­trib­ute to the fu­ture of African fash­ion. I’d also love to work closely with the youth of Bethanie to pro­vide skills de­vel­op­ment and cre­ate em­ploy­ment.

What ad­vice can you of­fer other de­sign­ers want­ing to en­ter Sea­son 2 of the com­pe­ti­tion? Don’t wait un­til en­tries open to get your­self ready. Start prepar­ing now so that when the time comes to sub­mit your port­fo­lio, you’re ready. Be brave enough to say that you want it and don’t let other peo­ple’s in­se­cu­ri­ties dis­tract you from do­ing what you need to do. Your dream will come true. You just need to work for it.


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