Three girls, three bursaries, three dreams come true. That is what happened last weekend at Northwest School of Design in Klerksdorp when fashion designer Gert-Johan Coetzee announced the winners of the GJC and Luminance bursaries at the Platinum Fashion Festival.
Thembakazi Stokwe and Xoliswa Kawuzela, both 28 and both getting a second shot at education in a field they’re passionate about, will both leave full-time jobs to immerse themselves in studying Fashion Communication and Buying at NWSD in 2017.
Capetonian Andrea Beyers, currently writing matric at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls, will embark on the Fashion Design course. Their three-year bursaries, worth a total of R500 000, will cover tuition fees and study materials, and includes sewing machines from Bernina for each of them.
In addition Xoliswa and Andrea will be personally mentored by Coetzee, with holiday internships at his studio, while Thembakazi, who was selected by Dr Judy Dlamini for the Luminance Social Responsibility Grant, will get invaluable exposure to the retail world at the luxury boutique group.
Thembakazi’s dream of a career in fashion almost never came true because her parents wanted her to pursue a more “secure” career, she says, so she obtained a BA in Psychology at UJ. But it never felt like a calling and after graduating she tried a variety of jobs from legal interpreting to retail to marketing. When she heard Dr Dlamini discussing the bursary on radio earlier this year, a light went up for her. “I always dreamt of one day working for Vogue in New York, and getting the chance to be mentored by someone as inspirational as Dr Dlamini, and becoming part of the Luminance family is like a dream come true. I never thought I would have this opportunity.”
For Dlamini it was Thembakazi’s resilience and her refusal to give up her dream that clinched the deal. “Thembi personifies the Luminance woman, who is hard-working and believes that limits exist only in our minds; who pursues her dreams with grace, and does it all in stilettos! She’s a perfect fit,” says Dlamini.
Coetzee in turn found a perfect match for his brand in Xoliswa Kawuzela from Kempton Park. Another frustrated fashionista who’d been persuaded by her family into the more “sensible” career of banking, she had never felt fulfilled and never stopped praying for an opportunity to come her way. The mother of a five-year-old boy, she is thrilled at her second chance, which could allow her to turn her love of fashion into business success. “It will be a sacrifice to be away from my son, but my mother has agreed to take care of him while I am studying full time,” explains Xoliswa. Says Coetzee, “Her maturity and the experience she has already gained in the business world will give her the edge, and I am excited to help shape her career in fashion.”
The baby of this bursary intake, 17-year-old Andrea Willow Beyers, grew up in Mitchell’s Plain and was accepted into Oprah’s prestige school in Grade 9. “Fashion has always been in my blood – I was about five years old when I started drawing dresses, and I’ve always loved putting together looks that are different,” she says. She learnt about the bursary when Coetzee did a talk at her school earlier this year, and immediately decided to apply. Coetzee noticed her confidence even then, and was impressed by the passion and focus she displayed in her application. “Talent goes a long way, but for my Fashion Design bursary I look for someone who is as singleminded and determined as I was as a teenager. This is a tough industry, and you really have to work hard to succeed. I recognise that drive in Andrea.”
Coetzee is committed to pass the baton to young design talents and his bursary programme at Northwest School of Design, where he himself graduated, is already entering its seventh year. And while it catered only for aspirant fashion designers before, he added a second bursary for 2017 for the more business-oriented course, and then inspired Dr Judy Dlamini to add the creative category to the various bursaries she already offers through her family trust. “Those of us who are fortunate in business have a responsibility to invest in the next generation,” says Coetzee. “I believe in the power of education and mentorship and feel blessed that I can pass on some of the lessons I have learnt and in that way help to grow the industry that has given me so much.”