Flaw-some! Local designers are embracing the trend to use 'real' models

05 November 2017 - 00:00 By REA KHOABANE
Kgothatso 'Khoty' Dithebe refuses to think of her birthmark as a flaw.
Kgothatso 'Khoty' Dithebe refuses to think of her birthmark as a flaw.

Tattoos, skin conditions, love handles and nose rings.

It may sound like the crowd at a weekend farmers' market, but it is increasingly becoming the mix on catwalks across South Africa.

At last week's South African Fashion Week in Johannesburg, the spotlight shone on the "flaw-some" trend of unusual models, many of whom were not typically beautiful, tall and dangerously skinny.

But the increasingly wider interpretation of beauty was not confined to this event, and South African designers are said to be leading the way in seeking "real" women for their clothes.

Kgothatso Dithebe, 22, known as Khoty on the runway, said that when she started modelling she used to cover the birthmark on her face and dye her hair black to look like the other girls, but this changed two years ago.

"I decided I'm going to be myself and I started approaching agencies because it's been my dream to be a model," she said.

"I was rejected at first and most of the time I got lousy reasons. One of the agencies said I can't compete with their girls, the other one said I would never get booked unless I covered my birthmark."

One fashion designer told her that audiences would focus on her instead of on the clothes.


A video of Thickleeyonce went viral after Fashion Week.
A video of Thickleeyonce went viral after Fashion Week.
Image: Alaister Russell
Kate Epsley-Jones spots her tattoos on the catwalk.
Kate Epsley-Jones spots her tattoos on the catwalk.
Image: Alaister Russell

"I decided to start posting pictures of myself on social media and people would comment and say I'm beautiful," Dithebe said.

"Through social media I was spotted by a guy called Andy and my first runway was with Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week last year."


She said one of the people she looked up to was black Canadian model Winnie Harlow, who has a rare condition, vitiligo, that results in white, unpigmented patches of skin.

South African designers Natasha Jaume and Carina Louw, who trade under the label Erre, said scars and other imperfections were a definition of beauty.

While the duo's choice of models varied, they said the brand celebrated "the confident side of being feminine". If a model had scars, especially on her face, they were a sign of how she had survived trauma and become stronger for it.

"Our designs are for women with curves. We celebrate and enhance feminine curves instead of aspiring to the 'skinny' silhouette that diminishes women power. We prefer more muscular and curvy bodies as they 'fill up' our jackets and coats," the designers said in an e-mail.

Fashion Week director Lucilla Booyzen said: "The designers choose their own models and this is based on their marketing strategy and who their consumers are."


Alex Minsky, US Marine corporal turned model.
Alex Minsky, US Marine corporal turned model.
Image: Getty Images

Booyzen, who founded Fashion Week in 1997, said South Africans had become "more individualistic. There are more designers, designing for different consumers and target markets, so the use of models or characters has changed from season to season. There is a global trend now to use everyday looks for the runway."

Consumer researcher Nicola Cooper said the trend towards "real" models was influenced by social media, where all women were able to share their own unique beauty and it was increasingly acceptable to be yourself.

"This trend is in embracing curvaceous women, and women who were perceived as having flaws are now 'flaw-some'," she said.

Ice Model Management director Jane Celliers said people related to beauty in different ways. "Shifting from the norm is not a new thing in the industry, it's just that we're seeing it more now in South Africa," she said.

"As an agency we go with what the clients want and clients today are looking for more street smarts than 'the usual'."


• American Jillian Mercado, who has muscular dystrophy and uses a wheelchair, has modelled for Diesel jeans.  

• British model Moffy, who suffers from strabismus — or crossed eyes —was signed by Storm Models after appearing on the cover of Pop magazine.

• Former US Marine and Purple Heart recipient Alex Minsky, who lost his right leg in a roadside explosion in Afghanistan, has become an internet sensation after being “discovered” by a fashion photographer.

• Casey Legler’s sharp cheekbones helped her get signed up by the Ford modelling agency’s men’s division, where she models only men’s clothing.

• Canadian fashion model, activist and spokeswoman Winnie Harlow has a rare skin pigmentation disorder called vitiligo.