How Khensani Mohlatlole is Helping to Shape Fashion Journalism in South Africa
Q&A with South African Fashion Writer and Content Creator, Khensani Mohlatlole
By Ranji Mangcu
Ten years into navigating the South African fashion industry, fashion journalist, content creator and pop culture commentator Khensani Mohlatlole has become a key critical voice in Johannesburg’s fashion media landscape.
Based in Johannesburg, this creative talent has a distinctive and well-researched perspective on the fashion industry and global pop culture. From fashion journalism in publications like Twyg and Industrie Africa to video essays on South African dress histories, she approaches her work with an unfettered and exploratory spirit. Mohlatlole's curiosity about fashion and dress histories is vividly expressed through her DIY and upcycling practices.
@okbaddiek my take on mary sibande’s amazing domestic worker sculptures. i made this late victorian maid’s outfit from black twill with a matching apron and doek/veil #victorianfashion #historicalcostuming #livinghistory #sewingtiktok #vintagefashion #vintageblackwomen #costumersofcolor ♬ Adagio - Vivaldi
Khensani Mohlatlole brings a refreshing wit and humour to her multi-disciplinary approach in bridging the insights gap within African fashion. Her relatable and witty style challenges traditional fashion paradigms.
Through her DIY and upcycling practices, she explores fashion and dress histories, reshaping traditional fashion media for a curious and critical new generation of fashion enthusiasts. Her expressive and playful intelligence in style resonates well with the fashion industry's evolving landscape, as she describes it uniquely positioned in the global fashion arena.
She has carved an original and visibly passion-driven path in the fashion industry. She honours and appreciates what she refers to as South Africa’s “unique” position in the global fashion industry: an opportunity to demonstrate a new and progressive way of “doing” fashion.
AFI had an enriching conversation with Mohlatlole. exploring the present and future of long-form fashion media, and the transformative possibilities of South Africa’s burgeoning fashion industry.
Have you always seen yourself living as a creative professional in the fashion industry?
I always imagined I would be a fashion designer, but through a lot of trial and error learned that I had a better affinity for the more communicative and media aspects.
What would you say has changed about your perspective since you first entered the industry?
I think I’ve come to understand that South Africa is in a very unique position in the industry, and that means applying completely new perspectives on how I expect an industry to operate. What has/hasn’t worked internationally does not translate the same here and that’s OK.
There’s a lot to read about the impediments of the African fashion industry. What would you say are the rewards of being in this industry, in the country that we’re in, in this cultural moment that we’re in it?
The most rewarding thing about the industry for me is that there’s so much room for change. It’s actually kind of a blessing to have such a young or small fashion industry because it means we’re in a better position to improve on the mistakes of longer established traditions and industries while adapting what does work to suit our context. Our country is full of innovative and passionate practitioners who are really thoughtfully bringing together their histories, cultures and diversity to foster a better fashion future.
You’ve chosen YouTube as your platform of choice for sharing your designs, DIY experimentation, fashion knowledge and cultural commentary. Meanwhile, most creators have come to depend on the shorter format of Tik Tok. What is it about YouTube that makes it more conducive to your content?
I make use of both YouTube and TikTok; I have been favouring TikTok a lot more recently. YouTube is obviously suited to long-form content, which is required with the amount of research and detail I strive for when discussing pop culture, trends or fashion history. However, whenever I have a brief thought, an unfinished thesis looking for feedback, or just did something over the weekend, TikTok is great.
@okbaddiek a surprisingly quick upcycle project—took a less than a day #thriftflip #upcycledclothing #sustainablefashion #sewingtiktok #succession #shivroy #darkacademia #preppyaesthetic ♬ No Lyrics - Kilo G
From ChatGPT to NFT’s and Metaverse fashion, fashion media is kind of facing an existential crisis, globally. How are you seeing that translate here in South Africa?
South African fashion media’s ‘crisis’ started long before generative AI and Web3. I mean, we did lose so many publications towards the end of the 2010s and with the onslaught of the pandemic. However, I don’t think fashion media is struggling since fashion content is so popular online. What’s changed is that we no longer have authorities like large media conglomerates and magazine publishers to set the conversation or archive it—which is going to be an issue in terms of keeping accessible documentation of our times.
How is social sustainability different to our conventional understanding of sustainability? Why is it important to make the distinction?
Social sustainability isn’t actually different to sustainability, but our perception of it is. A lot of early sustainability conversations were oversaturated with environmental concerns, not highlighting how people also form a part of the environment. True sustainability is cultural, social, and environmental. What affects the planet, affects people and what affects people affects the planet. The living and working conditions of [every] day women in garment factories is on the same level as how those same factories may be polluting water sources or contributing to landfill.
As we say our final goodbyes to fashion’s “blog era”, I’ve heard a lot of journalists argue that people “aren’t reading anymore”. What do you feel is the future of long-form fashion journalism in South Africa, given what’s supposedly happening globally?
As someone who has seen their own attention span dramatically shorten recently, I do understand the sentiment that people aren’t reading anymore however, that’s not true. I do think long-form fashion journalism has to be presented in both video and text form to achieve greater reach. It also needs to rid itself of overly academic language and passive, paid-for non-criticism. Basically, it has to be accessible and relevant and provide value to people.
What was your very first job in fashion? What was it like?
My very first job in fashion was covering AFI’s Joburg Fashion Week in 2014 for an online magazine. I was still in high school then, so I had to balance doing my homework and extra-murals while attending for all 3 days, live tweeting and sharing articles the same day.
Who are the three Joburg-based designers you would love to see showcase at Joburg Fashion Week 2023?
That’s a tough one. There are so many I like but I’ll say: Viviers, Refuse Clothing and Long Season.
What project – across all your disciplines – are you most proud of to date?
I’m probably most proud of the Ebb & Flow article I wrote for Rich Mnisi’s RICH Magazine by The Southern Guild, mostly because it’s in print. I’ve worked almost entirely digitally since I started more than a decade ago and having witnessed the decline of print media, that wasn’t something I ever thought I’d achieve.