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Front row with Taylor Makhoba

Photography by Skits

Front row with Taylor Makhoba

I've been harping on quite a bit about how Johannesburg feels like the holy Mecca for African creativity and culture regeneration. My next interviewee for the blog is quite literally at the epicentre of this entire creative cosmic shift – oscillating between multiple creative hats, but primarily as a model. Actually, I think supermodel is the more accurate term.

Taylor Makhoba is a 20-year old creative gem whom I personally discovered last year through a campaign, shot by Kgotlelelo Sekiti better known as 'Skits', for international publication FGUK Magazine. He was wearing these really risky-yet-tasteful Nao Serati outfits (think like sexy leather BDSM) – which only he could pull off. I think that's where I knew there was a modelling star in the making, and just a year later, he has further amassed collaborations with the eponymous Wanda Lephoto, Grade Africa, and more.

Whilst in conversation with Taylor, he mentioned something extremely poignant to me, and which reads:

"I’m moved by a Black woman's plight. I come from a difficult background where we struggle to make ends meet and seeing my mother juggle multiple occupations to ensure she provides for our family is my biggest motivational force."

I honestly don't think it gets clearer than that.

Photography by Anke Loots

To me, Taylor is an inspiration to all Black kids out there with aspirations to change their circumstances at home through the power of their creativity. I think he's a real live example that it's possible, and I had the absolute pleasure of virtually engaging him to further understand what it means to be an independent model in South Africa, modelling for Wanda Lephoto's latest 'GAZE' collection, advice to upcoming young models trying to crack the industry, and more.

Photography by Skits

Would you mind introducing yourself and including a short description of what you do?

Taylor: My name is Taylor Makhoba, age 20. I think of myself as a shape shifter, a vessel, and a student at most. Transparency, aptness and versatility would be my predominant factors.

I’d love to classify myself as a multifaceted creative as I’ve had multiple opportunities to work as a freelance creative director, set designer & stylist but that feels like a dream of a distant journey; rather think of me as a “contributing factor” in those professions. My mother would always say to “focus on what you love then amplify it” and having pended over this on multiple occasions, I can confidently say I’m a model. Well... a SUPERMODEL.

Over the past 5 years, I’ve come to understand that I’m more than just a person who is employed to wear clothing for the purpose of advertising or display, or who poses with a product for a similar purpose, but to translate the way garments or products feel to produce an illustrative centred set of work that aligns to the vision a designer or image maker has.

To present a similar feeling the seamstress had from just a needle and a thread to a garment, the tiresome hours and the countless mistakes. It all matters to me, I’ve got to show you and I’m only getting better.

Photography by Skits

At what age did you start modelling and why?

Taylor: At the age of 15. I was a stripling with no direction or mastery of the industry, just passion and a device with multiple photos I’d sporadically take after school rather than studying. I was trying to emulate what I’ve seen across social media platforms, fishing for opportunities or attention similar to people that inspire me locally, like Kgotlelelo Sekiti, Tamara Moeng & Nkululeko Masemola, without the understanding of what it takes to get to that point of relevance or backing.

With my two feet, there was only so far I could go without the necessary resources to create in ways that are true to my vision, not that anything’s changed. I later realised that I was too concerned with fitting in with the people I idolised locally rather than being true to myself. I wanted to do it my way, change the narrative. I realised hunger was my only appetite and focused on demonstrating this – if doors close in my face, I’d have to enter through the window. I was raised to believe passion is poetry, and poetry is passion.

I would say it is all I know, or ever cared to know. It means everything to me to be a vessel that demonstrates a collective's effort and have the world experience me in a positive light.

Photography by Skits

Maybe school us a bit about the modelling industry and how it works locally. You said that you are independent right?

Taylor: Yes, I am independent. I think it’s only right that I know everything that has happened so far, so that's how I’m telling it. I plan to settle with an agency when the opportunity presents itself, everything in divine timing. It’s my labour of love that has made collaboration with a number of local creatives possible. In my personal opinion, I think talent helps but it won’t take you as far as ambition. It’s all about taking chances, making sacrifices, compromising yourself, asking for help and engaging in conversations with new people to see who’s keen to take a chance on you.

I can’t tell you entirely how it works as it’s different for everyone but I can give you an idea how I’m making it possible. It’s through collaboration, that’s the cure. The formula would include encouraging everyone to work for a communal goal rather than individual goals, alone. I personally think we have the ability to impact each other's lives for a positive change, yet we choose to stand divided in possession of the necessary resources to push each other forward. I go against this. While we've made gains personally, we must now expand our thinking and hearts to make strides collectively.

We must establish a better approach on things, the "help me, help you with the vision you have for yourself" approach, whether the opportunity at hand is lucrative or not lucrative. I’d love to say a lot more but I’m still learning..

Photography by Skits

How was your choice of career received by those around you? What I'm basically asking is, did you have a support system while pursuing this dream?

Taylor: It was well received. I’ve always had backing from my family and friends since day one; it’s unfortunate my parents can’t help me in ways they would’ve wished to. I’m grateful things are this way, there’s a lot I still need to experience and learn while on the road – I’ve also gotten the opportunity to meet a lot beautiful, incredibly creative and talented people.

Photography by Travis Owen

Now let's talk about some of the work you've done - I see on your portfolio that you've previously worked with Grade Africa, Nao Serati, and more recently, Wanda Lephoto. How has this overall experience been for you?

Taylor: Liberating, remarkable and eye opening... I’ve come to learn so much having had the opportunity to be in these space working with very talented designers, stylists, photographers and creative teams that I’ve never worked with before. I’ve developed a large amount of respect for these people... knowing creatives go through highs and lows in quest of recognition, acceptance, backing, money and sanity... whilst simultaneously fighting poverty, insecurity and doubt. It’s been both a blessing and a privilege to live through their vision.

I’m making so many sacrifices to be where I am in my career. The highlight thus far would have to be the Wanda Lephoto 'Who Is Gazing' campaign. My family is so proud to know that I had a hand in a masterpiece that casts inclusion and acknowledgement.

Photography by Anke Loots

What inspires or drives you the most to continue doing what you do?

Taylor: I’m moved by a Black woman's plight. I come from a difficult background where we struggle to make ends meet and seeing my mother juggle multiple occupations to ensure she provides for our family is my biggest motivational force. I believe I’ll be able to provide for her through this one day. It also inspires me to hear boys and girls of colour say "You inspire me, how are you doing this? I wanna do this because I see someone doing it who's just like me" – that’s everything to me.

I also wonder what it feels like to be jet lagged after a flight from South Africa to France for a Gucci campaign in Paris, and wake up early the next morning for a flight to Italy for Milan Fashion Week.

Photography by Skits

Is there any advice which you could maybe impart onto emerging models who wanna maybe emulate the type of achievements which you've amassed?

Taylor: I know you are looking for a solution, a way to be in position for the relevant opportunities. I say there is no instant solution, the only way to learn is through experience, constantly showing up, making mistakes, rolling with the punches, asking for help, sending endless emails and taking the rejection. There’s just some things you’re gonna have to experience. While at it, never let what you see on social media trick you into doubting the resources you have at hand, be it the least of things. Utilise them to their maximum ability.

Keep an inquiring mind on your journey – ask as many questions as you can to track the necessary information you need, manipulate it and see how you can factor it into your formula. If you are fortunate enough to know what your strongest point is, try to dramatise it like a cartoonist would dramatise an action. “Don’t worry about being likeable, they’ll have to adjust at some point."

I say this as someone who’s still learning, stay true to your subject, remain humble to your roots and you will be far more likely to be part of the creation of something timeless.

Photography by Luke Ncube


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