Blogger, Student, Stylist and Content Creator, Siki Msuseni, sits with Simbongile while in Joburg for school practicals & networking to share her philosophies about prioritizing and the importance of happiness in her busy life.
The minute Siki walks into Post Café, the cozy restaurant in Braam where we previously agreed to do this interview, she lights it up with a greeting to everyone inside and her signature big smile. Her energy fills the room and I immediately give a sigh of relief that she is the same high-spirited person that her social media interactions suggest.
We share a quick laugh at my phone’s cracked screen “story of my life,” she says, before she tells me she is currently within her Consumer Science degree at UNISA which will equip her with the tools to become a trend forecaster, buyer and ultimately a brand manager. It is not surprising that her end goals lie in fashion as she’s been styling for various brands and publications for a few years already. “What was great is that people were already talking about me and my personal style before I decided to just do it and work (in styling).” Siki also admits that it is a very tough industry saying that “some people that you think have your best interests at heart actually don’t and that’s why it’s so important to do your own work as well – which is how blogging helped me.”
On All Things Intriguing
She laughs out loud before giving me list of what intrigues her about herself. “My personality, my laugh, my sense of style and my legs… JA! Oh, and my warm spirit. I’m sorry but that gets me about myself. The way that I am so welcoming I think is a result of my upbringing – my parents. To me, everyone is important – from CEO to street sweeper – and people deserve a certain level of respect despite their position but just for being human.”
When it comes to the South African style and fashion culture amongst millennials, Siki, loves that we have such confidence and basically zero fucks to give. “It’s that attitude of, ‘I’m going to wear it! – I don’t care who says what and the personal expression that comes through what we wear. There is also this freedom that does not bind us to wearing the same style constantly; today it will be a crop top and jeans and tomorrow it will be art through clothing like Manthe Ribane.”
On Discovering Her Personal Style
“As a kid, I always fought with my mom. Ukuqabuka kwam, that’s when I was like, ‘No, I’m not -oing this!’ and we used to fight. Firstly, I wouldn’t wear hand-me-downs from my older sister – I hated them. They were so average-Woolworths-Kids. And her style is not my style so it’s different for us in that we don’t fall into that ‘the younger sister always steals clothes from the older sister’ thing. Now, we’ll only ever share the odd neck piece or sneakers. I remember I used to take three quarter tights and cut them on the sides – my parents didn’t buy us clothes a lot – and wear them with shorts over the top. There was a time I got a pair of Sketchers sneakers; I literally thought I was the IT GIRL!” She also talks about her mom’s influence on her style, “She played a big role. She would make us look classic and different and that’s something I held on to.”
On Her Work
Siki explains that she no longer wants to be loud about her work but to rather let it speak for itself. “I’ve noticed that great work and people never need to be punted, like Khanyi Dhlomo. Letting the work speak on its own is the key because being punted is temporary, there is always going to be someone that comes along that may be more hyped than you but the work stays the work.”
But, she was nice enough to spill about the clients that she has. “I work with Superbalist on a regular freelance basis; I also write for Cape Town Tourism and have A Fashion Friend as a client. I can’t mention names but there are a few people in Parliament that I style. I also do a few reports here and there in terms of market research with guys like Instant Grass.” After yelling a sweet, “thanks boo!” to one of the waitrons for being kind enough to lower the music volume at our request, she makes sure to set it straight that, “I do not work on a regular basis. Let me not fool you. There are weeks that go by where I don’t do any work because I do not want to, despite what people might pitch to me.” The importance of being selective in the work that you do is something that is very important to Siki. “Because I still feel that I am new, I don’t really have criteria on what I choose to take on but I won’t say yes to everything that comes my way.”
When it comes to academics, Siki, is very vocal across her social media about how much she is enjoying her studies. She describes herself as an overachiever which is quite accurate when you look at the straight A+ result sheet she posted earlier in the year. It can be difficult to find a balance with this sphere of her life also being very demanding. “I always keep the bigger picture in mind. I want to be qualified. I want to make money. I go hard – I go hard, I go hard styling, I go hard being out with friends. I don’t do little bits of everything; I do one thing at a time to perfection and move on to the next. While I’m doing one thing, I am not thinking about another and I am wholeheartedly into that activity at that time.
On Cape Town vs. Joburg Fashion and Style
“Here (Joburg), they live and breathe the fashion. I saw the guy from the SARTISTS the other day and asked if his outfit was for a shoot thinking that he might change and wear normal clothes again – I mean, ebephethe ‘he had’ itennis racket from way back as an accessory. In Joburg, fashion is a lifestyle. People don’t put on nice clothes as costumes and then become an actor for a shoot, they live it. In Cape Town, we don’t really care about what we wear. Yes, it’s still self-expression but we don’t, like, make an effort. We don’t put on clothes thinking that ‘today, I’m going to be in these streets and be snapped.” It’s relaxed. Also, in Joburg there are a lot of subculture groups and duos that will create a uniform style but in Cape Town, style is very individualistic. But I love the Joburg collectivism.”
On Blogging in SA
“Only the real ones (bloggers) who take it seriously will survive!” she says jokingly in that doom and gloom Hollywood movie voice over tone. She changes her tone to express her irritation, “AH FLIP. But it’s so saturated with people trying too hard. Especially fashion blogging, everyone is now branching out to food, beauty, etc. Just stick to one thing! It’s okay, boo.” When I ask her if she thinks that many have sold out to become commercial mouth pieces for brands, she admits that she does not follow a lot of blogs herself and doesn’t really pay attention to it. But, she does note that “people that had an authentic voice and core identity when they started out are either losing it or have lost it. There is also the part of the blogs that try do something that hasn’t been done but lose the plot along the line.”
There is a reality, however, in South Africa that means that there are many people with the talent to blog and do it well but lack the resources, DSLR cameras are expensive y’all! In an older blog post, Siki, tackled this by stating that in fashion blogging especially, you need money to create the content. “A lot of people actually misinterpreted that and were saying to me that it wasn’t true yet their outfits were from pricey international stores like Zara. Being a trust fund kid is definitely an advantage.”
I ask her next who she thinks has managed to make the convergence between styling work and blogging and do it well. “There are a lot of bad bloggers out there,” she makes sure to state before listing the contrary. “Jerry Mokgafe stands out for me. His styling sometimes is done so well that you cannot tell that it is done by him. I respect him and love his blogging too. Bee Diamond Head – she’s not a blogger but she has a cool Tumblr. Urgh! She’s amazing. Thithi Nteta now really just styles herself but her previous work with the likes of Bonang was so great.”
On Collaborating with Brands
With blogging becoming such a viable alternative media stream worldwide, it was inevitable that commercial brands would jump on the bandwagon in the aims of being “with it.” In South Africa, blogging growth has been slower than the rest of globe but growing steadily. Local brands are just starting to really work with bloggers in a big way but sometimes, and most times they get it very wrong.
I asked Siki to advise on how brands should aim to work with bloggers and alternative media. “What makes a relationship last between a brand and a blogger is longevity; a minimum six months and no less with regular pay. Consistency; work with the same blogger/s because you’ll find a blogger will be promoting Shoe Brand A this month and then Shoe Brand B the next which ultimately makes both campaigns lose credibility. We would love brands to stick with us for that time and work on a review system to account for the success of the work. Brands also need to stop this numbers thing – yes, you want exposure so you’ll run to the blogger with the most followers but have you thought about engagement and influence? Rather go with blogger with quality rather than quantity.”
On Face Forward with Clinique
“That was such a lovely collaborating. I absolutely love Robyn Khan, founder of A Fashion Friend, who were part of it as well. While I was working for Superbalist, they (AFF) called me up, explained what the campaign was about it and Margaret Zhang and Tavi Gevinson’s involvement in it globally and made me an offer. I couldn’t agree right away because I was working full time and could not get away for shoots. I had terms and conditions that they accepted and we would shoot during lunch times. I would call a cab to get me from the office and rush to the AFF studio. It’s funny because I’m a bit controversial on Twitter and never think that brands would want to work with me so it’s really nice when they recognize my work ethic like this. The campaign is really about having a mantra so, for me it is being consciously happy and making sure I have that around me.
On Life Lessons
“My mom always used to tell me to not want what the next person wants. Be an individual, stay in your lane and that does give me tunnel vision and I definitely do feel competition at times but I always pull myself back and remind myself that I have something different to offer than the next person.” Luckily, for Siki, this is something that she didn’t need to wait until being undercut in the industry to learn. “It’s a way of thinking that’s been with me since high school already thanks to Pinelands High School. It’s (PHS) a place where cultural expression and individuality was celebrated.”
In 5 years I will be…
Traveling the world and being a buyer for Woolworths, H&M and Zara – also trend-forecasting.
Siki Msuseni blogs at www.sikimsuseni.blogspot.com
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