THE KENTSE SHOW
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
"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.
“IF I CAN’T DRESS THE PEOPLE IN MY VILLAGE, HOW AM I EVER GOING TO DRESS THE PEOPLE IN PARIS?”