Ntombi has spent the last few months working as a stylist in New York City and shooting fashion films. She is based in Australia and grew up in Southern Africa. During our interview she showed her love of fashion, styling, and creative direction with her unique outfit and glittery lip gloss. She emphasized the importance of confidence and knowing her identity. Traveling has allowed Ntombi to gain perspective and also own herself and her identity as a Southern African woman.
Ntombi, did you grow up in South Africa?
I was born in Zimbabwe with strong roots in South Africa and Zambia. I traveled between all three countries as my family is scattered between that region. I moved to Australia at the age of eleven.
When did your interest in fashion and creativity start?
My parents encouraged me to be a doctor or a lawyer. I never knew creativity could be an option, and I never knew these jobs were accessible. When I went to university I realized there were options to work in a creative industry as I saw my peers exploring these options. I started working in fashion at the age of 16. I did it for fun on the side, but I never saw it as something I could do for my career. It was always a passion project. At one point I started a health school within aged care. It was cool and everything, but it was just not me.
When did styling become your career?
I kept doing shoots and working in fashion photography studios. It got to a point that these hobby jobs were paying me more than my actual job. I realized I could make it my career. This really happened in the past two years after eight years of being in the industry. I have always encouraged myself to be creative on the weekends or before or after work. I thought it was experimental, but everyone around me said I should do it for my career and the money just started trickling in.
I mean truthfully a lot of my jobs have been creative. I always thought I would be in a corporate building. I just did not think this is where I would end up.
What advice would you give to creative young adults?
Give it all your time and effort. I was working at a fashion photography studio and did not get credit for all of the work, so before work I would go do all my pickups or drop offs from designers. After work I would do a shoot, so I gave all my effort – before work, after work, and on the weekends. If you just give it all your time and effort, it will pay off. Just put in the hard work and the time.
Did living in multiple cities and countries influence your creativity?
Absolutely, and I love gaining perspectives. I am so grateful that I gained a deep understanding of who I was before I left. I understand what the rest of the world is. I know who I am. I am not confused with my identity but also travel and see other parts of the world. I am so grateful for that. I am a Southern African woman. I have traveled all over, and I carry that with me.
What does it mean for you to be powerful?
To be powerful for me is to be a mirror to people who look like me. Being based in Australia at the moment I am surrounded by amazing women of color that are stepping up, we are the first a lot of these fields due to whitewashed media. It is this weird opportunity to stand up and own our creativity. I have friends in the music industry that are representing people of color and killing it. Being powerful is showcasing who you are and being a mirror for other young people of color and inspiring others and showing them that you can do what you want. I feel like I am just starting out, but young girls reach out and ask how I got into things.
If I could encourage anyone to travel, do it. It helps me stay open-minded. Go live in Europe for a bit, go live in Australia, spend time with people, and put that into everything you do. Just the perspective change. It is so important to just get a different perspective.
What is the largest challenge you faced in your career?
I have had challenges but all of them have been financial. Basically, I was working so much that I had to quit my job to do my own projects and it was an exciting time. I was excited, but you need foresight about what is coming after that. Working as a freelancer you need to manage your money more. Now all the money I made from my styling work, I needed both for my life and for my styling projects. And styling is not cheap. If you want to really invest in beautiful pieces from around the world, that is expensive. That was definitely the biggest challenge. For example, I wanted to go do a shoot in the United Kingdom in a few weeks and I have an opportunity to style for a project in Cuba, but going there is expensive. This part of my job is a current headache for me.