Thobeka refuses to be defined by her disability and her illustrious career, as a stylist, proves that she is truly dynamite in the fashion industry.
By: Mokgadi Letsoalo
As she enters JB’s corner, in Sandton, no one in the room would doubt that Thobeka commands all the attention.
The 27 years old Stylist kicks off our conversation by immediately expressing how fashion picked her blood. With her grandfather as a fashion designer and two brothers in the industry, style flows like nature to her.
Thobeka was born in Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape and moved Johannesburg to attend Filadelfia boarding school, for her high school.
The stylist giggles at the realisation of how she has always been a fashion girl her entire life. She recalls being called Frankie because she was the mini Pam Andrews in primary school.
“I was into crazy fashion at a very young age, my friends then started calling me by Pam’s backstage character, Frankie because of her stylish nature. It was crazy,” she jokes.
“People look at you the way you see yourself, if you give the disability too much attention, other people will do the same.”
With both her hands folded on the table and her feet barely touching the floor, you would bet on her still being in grade 4. Thobeka was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis when she was four years old and that resulted in her spinal cord being bent.
She doesn’t go deep into the disability, but however expresses that, “people look at you the way you see yourself, if you give the disability too much attention, other people will do the same”.
She emphasises that, her being disabled has nothing to do with her working hard on building her brand. “I don’t want to hold the title of being the first person with a disability to do this and that is why I don’t go around labelling it,” she explains.
Thobeka studied Engineering for two years and dropped out to complete a qualification in insurance, and now studies Fashion Law. As a self-taught stylist, she figured Fashion Law was the right corner for her in the fashion industry, because her talent and experience are teaching her enough about being a stylist.
She reveals that she is a die-hard high fashion fan and because of that she doesn’t even envy styling socialite celebrities. Then again, this is the woman who has worked with a large number of top-rated models at the South African Fashion Week and Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Celine Okonnaya, James Nzina, Curtis Orange and Thea Lamplough are amongst the reputable models she has styled both for photoshoots and runway.
Thobeka was also part of the shoot with New York model, Puma Del Monte, during his visit to South Africa, recently.
“I am not after fame, but if fame comes with it then its fine,” she makes it clear.
“I want my work to speak for itself, I choose who I associate my brand with because one bad job can over shadow the good work you have been doing.”
The stylist tables her challenge as being expected to work ten times harder because she is a woman and believes that most girls are just after being famous.
Thobeka appreciates big names like fashion designer Floyd Avenue, whom she has worked with. She has also collaborated with almost all fashion photographers in Jo’burg, including David Blaq, Erem Malo, South West Union and George Lewis.
She believes that “people don’t just work with people they don’t know”, which validates that she’s on the right direction.
Thobeka is now also venturing into new avenues and is expecting her website, Thobeka Mbane, to be launched this month. She highlights that, her not struggling with working with best models in the country forces her to be guarded with her brand.
The young stylist believes that the experience of interning at the South African Fashion Week [in preparation of the show] and working backstage at the Soweto Fashion Week trained her to test greater avenues, in fashion.
She concludes that she’s letting her work talk to the people and them knowing who she is will follow.