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‘Unapologetic about my truth' – Kgosierileng speaks after ‘Project Runway’ exit

'Project Runway SA' contestant Gift Kgosierileng, who has been eliminated from the competition, says that the most powerful thing in life is the ability to speak one's truth and he has mastered that.

Designer Gift Kgosierileng. Picture: Supplied

JOHANNESBURG - From the beginning of the show, he owned up to his Khoisan roots and the latest episode of Project Runway South Africa saw Gift Kgosierileng bow out of the competition.

The Mzansi Magic show started with 12 South African designers and one is eliminated every week. After Kgosierileng’s elimination, now only six remain. They are: Sandile Mlambo, Kireshen Chetty, Kentse Masilo, Siphosihle Masango, Stephen van Eeden and Jaime Liu.

Mentoring the designers is acclaimed South Africa designer Gert-Johan Coetzee and he is joined by judges top fashion PR specialist Noni Gasa and creator of luxury menswear brand Row-G, Rahim Rawjee. Lerato Kganyago hosts the show.

While many have hailed Kgosierileng’s designs as authentic with a rich African touch, some have had mixed feelings about his work.

Eyewitness News followed up with the 30-year-old designer from Upington.

EWN: Behind the mask, who is Gift Kgosierileng? Why designing and when did you fall in love with it?

Kgosierileng: I am the only child of the late Baitshepi Kgosierileng, who was a teacher and an artist in Namibia. I lost my mom when I was 12. And then I lived with my grandmother, who I lost when I was 14. I have lived alone since I was 14, so I have always had the duty and responsibility to fulfil my passion and my dream.

Before she died, my mom made me promise her that I would always believe in "a dream". So I think, with that, it became my comfort that I would develop myself and learn everything that I love, which is creativity and expressing myself through art.

Designing was introduced to me as a very Western thing. People would say: ‘Oh, you want to be a fashion designer, and it makes sense because you are gay, oh that’s why you are creative. So fashion is your thing.’

I became very addicted to my expression and I knew that it was not only a dream I had, it was beyond me.

EWN: What is your greatest inspiration?

Kgosierileng: My mom. I have so many photos of her. And as a child, I would get embarrassed because she used to get so much attention for her wardrobe. She was quite an expressionist. I fell in love with designing seeing my mom living her truth through art, especially when it comes to clothes. She taught me how to sew when I was really young.

EWN: Let’s reflect a bit on your childhood.

Kgosierileng: At one point I lived in Hermanus with foster parents. I remember reading a book called The Lost Boy: A foster child's search for the love of a family by Dave Pelzer. The boy eventually became very successful and I remember thinking if he could do it, so could I.

EWN: About the show, which comments from the judges about your work - either pleasant or not so pleasant – have lingered in the mind and what do you have to say?

Kgosierileng: Project Runway SA was always such a surreal experience and Gert-Johan Coetzee has been such an inspiration. I couldn’t believe that someone who designs such beautiful, commercial and glamourous garments would believe that there is something about the way I design that is so new and fresh. Getting to this stage and being told by the judges that "you are becoming too monotonous" I was pushed into versatility, which I think I provided. The world will call you versatile when you do something that they know but they will always come back to what they know.

And South Africa has been so slaved mentally and even creatively. We always think that America is at the top of the chart, not realising that Africa is where it started.

In some episodes where I was guided to design according to what they wanted I somehow struggled but in challenges which I stayed true to myself, I conquered.

EWN: Were your experiences in the show everything you anticipated?

Kgosierileng: Going into the competition was a way to confront and challenge himself as an artist. You are put in a pool of very talented people. I was always moved by their talent. But I was always so cautious because you can be very “limpy” as an artist if you create what the world tells you to. If you don’t fit into people’s boxes you may be classified as not good enough. That is one of the things I have always received throughout my career.

Being in the competition made me so firm about my identity and personality. I am a fashion artist before I am a designer. I am a disruptor. And I am going to give you something that is not normal.

EWN: How do you describe yourself as an individual, as well as your style?

Kgosierileng: I classify myself as someone that acknowledges their spirit before the flesh. I don’t have to rehearse to be who I am. I am unapologetic about being and not doing.

My designs will always change. And I am going to be very honest with you, I don’t think anybody could ever put me in a box. I might have seemed monotonous in the show … "Oh my goodness, he’s so African" and whatever. But I always remembered that it’s not about them setting the truth for me, it’s about me. So I wanted to show South Africa (and ultimately Africa) who I am.

And just as musicians have their gifts, such as Sjava – who is my favourite musician – has a gift, I just tap into my personal gift.

EWN: What has been the most memorable moment from the competition?

Kgosierileng: It was when we designed according to the theme inspired by a special woman in our lives. I made a dress inspired by my friend Mpho Cornelius who came through to the show – together with other contestants’ mothers.

EWN: And your favourite episode?

Kgosierileng: It definitely has to be my last episode because I was very unapologetic of my truth. The judges are very good people in what they do, but at one point they were once where I was.

When I woke up in the morning I wrote a gratitude list. I was so grateful for being on the competition, for the friendships I have formed, that the judges recognised my talent and the whole experience.

So for my last challenge, I could not connect with the Lexus Lc 500 which guided the episode's theme. It is a very Western object. But after I got eliminated, I thought "rather go home for your truth and not what you are trying to pretend to be good at".

EWN: Where to from here?

Kgosierileng: I am currently busy with my collection called The Slave’s Truth and I am going to create that in my ancestral hut where my grandmother grew up, in a village in Perth. And that’s where I have my machines and where I create.

In his parting words, he said he would love to see creatives stick together and support one another and he thanked everyone who has supported him.

About what’s next … the world is his oyster.