‘Chats’ Expanded: Sandi Blouse

Interview by Tshego ‘Red’ Mosiane

Sandiso Ngubane, also known as Sandi Blouse, is a noted writer in the South African fashion media space with 8 years experience as a culture writer, focusing mostly on music and fashion. Ngubane started his professional career as a writer in 2009 for the award-winning fashion news portal iFashion back in their glory years. The years which followed have seen Ngubane’s name on the bylines of publications such as The Times, ELLE South Africa and GQ South Africa just to name a few.

Prior to all this, though, Sandiso gained attention via a blog titled Trends Beyond Threads. He gained praise, envy and everything in-between from his honest commentary on all things South African fashion.

With such extensive experience in the industry, we invited Sandiso to expand on the points raised in episode 1 of our talk show ‘Chats’ in which we discussed the high-jacking of conversations in South African fashion media by giving is viewpoint on the matter.

photo source: superbalist.com/Bevan Davis

REconnecteD: At the beginning of your career as a fashion writer, what kind of conversations were being had in South African fashion media?

Sandiso Ngubane: When I started there was almost no conversations about fashion. Magazines were doing fashion spreads, obviously, but critical thought about fashion was hard to come by and getting commissioned was quite a slog. I even recall designers complaining about the lack of coverage from traditional media. There wasn’t as much as you see today. It was quite frustrating.

RE: Since then, what is the shift you’re seeing in the conversations allowed in the industry?

SN: I think even though there is a lot of coverage today, a lot of it still shies away from criticism. People are scared to say what they think and that is because everyone wants to work with brands. Brands are just not going to work with you if you are a thinker. It’s hard for them to do, because they are looking at their bottom line. They want someone who is a mannequin; someone they can paste anything on and it sticks. Designers don’t want to be criticized either, all they want to hear is that they are doing great even when they really aren’t. Unfortunately, the people regarded as thought leaders don’t lead much thought either because many are worried about the next brand collaboration or borrowing clothes from designers, so understandably they would refrain from engaging intelligently with fashion. In hindsight, it’s great that there is coverage, but as far as conversation is concerned, I don’t see any tangible conversations. Instead it’s a lot of influencer glorification because this is what benefits brands from an exposure point of view but exposure and progress don’t often mean the same thing. Designers are still putting out a lot of mediocre work precisely because the “opinion leaders” are only there to glorify instead of being critical.

RE: What do you think was the reason for the shift in conversations being had in the industry?

SN: When I started there were a lot of us trying to be a critical voice but many of us were banned from a lot of events, including fashion week. Even today, some of us are never accredited because they know they can’t pull a wool over our eyes by inviting us to parties, or giving us freebies, and expecting us to be silent about the crap that goes on in the industry. Personally, I don’t give a shit about going to an event. I’ve drank as much free champagne as anyone can stomach. I care more about how the industry is progressing but by-and-large this is not the interest, it would seem, of even the event organizers, like fashion week. They care more about being presented in a good light even though it is so obvious that they are a big fucking mess. So I think the conversations don’t exist because no one is talking about the important stuff. We behave like everything is peachy, yet year-in year-out our brands are dying.

RE: The people gaining publicity by using buzz words from a conversation (i.e representation, etc.) aren’t the people who built the conversation to the point of it being generally accepted in the industry, why do you think that is? 

SN: South Africans are generally ahistorical and erasure is a real thing in this industry because I think we place value in the wrong things. For example, we place value in selfies rather than what’s on the runway. On any fashion week, you are most likely to see street style being broadcast on social media ad nauseam. There’s nothing wrong with street style or selfies on the FROW, there’s a place for it, but when street style stars become bigger than designers, that, for me, is a problem. Especially when they are not even patrons of South African designers.

RE: What do you think needs to change about the conversations in local fashion media and who publicly leads and benefits from them?

SN: People who are serious about the progression of South African fashion instead of their personal Instagram career need to come to the fore. But where and who are they, becomes the question. It’s a catch-22 because who is to say they won’t get banned for slating a disastrous show, for example?

RE: How do you feel about foreign publications high-jacking conversations from the local fashion industry? Do they depict us accurately? Is it their place?

SN: Well, if we are not leading the conversation that’s exactly what’s going to happen. While the complaints are justifiable, it’s also annoying hearing them when we don’t take the opportunity to listen to one another. It reminds me of people who complain about misogynist celebrities but still support them. Why are you complaining? To score social media likes? We need to stop being seen to do things and actually get our hands dirty, and I think in the current environment, those who get their hands dirty don’t seem to be in the spotlight. Maybe that’s how they prefer it, and maybe that’s okay too, but who are you talking to and are they listening? I just worry about the lack of documentation about how the industry is developing, and lack of vision about how it should be progressing, Designers are working in silos, and foundations like the National Fashion Council have so far not been able to lead a consolidation of efforts to ameliorate the industry in the way one would have hoped they would.

RE: What would you advise young content creators do to protect themselves from brands, publications, etc high-jacking a conversation they’ve invested effort into building?

SN: If you want to work with brands there will always be limitations about where you can take a conversation, and they will always want to control the narrative. It’s up to you to decide whether you are going into this for the brand cash or for the love of it. It’s difficult to reconcile the two. As far as foreigners are concerned, they won’t stop talking, we just have to be there to say “no, that’s not the truth, here is the truth”. But we’re not doing that. Instead we want to complain.

RE: What would you advise young content creators do to contribute to leading conversations in fashion media further?

SN: Well, that would be to take a real interest in fashion and not a surface level interest where you start using fashion as a vehicle to celebrity. Fame is okay, but it shouldn’t dictate how you do your work. Identify what it is you would like to be known for, and specialize in that, but do your research thoroughly. There’s nothing worse than someone being hailed as a fashion expert when they can’t even give you proper insight into what is going on. Research, context and staying abreast of changes is important. Basically, find you niche, Instagram is not it. That field is already overly saturated.



Watch episode 1 of ‘Chats’ here: