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Liyanna B

January 12 / 2021

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Swazi-born model and activist Liyanna B was recently crowned winner of the Influencer Award at the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards 2020. This award recognises a personality who has actively promoted sustainable fashion over the last 12 months and who has sparked relevant conversations. Liyanna B discusses what sustainable fashion means to her, explores the role of influencers in catalysing positive change, and reveals Southern Africa’s most inspiring fashion labels.

 

Q >What’s your earliest memory of clothing or fashion?

A >The earliest memory I have is of a dress that mum made when I was a child. It was a light navy blue dress with a light blue pinafore and white frills just below my waist. My mother made it from leftover material that my aunt had used to sew clothes for her customers.

Q >How did your upbringing influence your passion for sustainable fashion as an adult?

A >The thing is, I didn’t know that the way we lived was referred to as sustainable living or would soon have a term in the years to come. To me it was my life, it was not something I thought of or thought to think of. Even my Matric dance dress was sewn by my mother and grandfather with the help of my aunt and grandmother here and there. It was only later as an adult that I came across the term “sustainable”.

Think of it this way: you live in a house with 9 happy kids, a grandfather who is a pastor, who knows how to sew, who is a self-taught carpenter and a gardener. We had avocado, plums, litchis, African potato, peaches, onions growing in our yard. To us that meant trees to climb, to swing on — it was life; it was my amazing childhood. My grandmother, on the other hand, was an English teacher which meant lots of books to read passed down from her children to us and so on. So for the longest time this was life — it was not the term “sustainable”. Even when we cooked there was a board on the fridge with who’s cooking what on what day, which day is meat day, which day is vegetable day. I would say what I saw was a very disciplined home with a good structure for enjoying good things and not taking the moments for granted. 

The way I grew up influenced me in many ways. When I shopped from a very young age I was always drawn to timeless pieces, ones that are always stunning in any year, and I took that after my mother and grandmother.

When I was a kid, my grandmother would always sit down, spending days writing a list of groceries she needed to buy just so she wouldn’t buy unnecessary items that we would probably never cook, or have them go rotten. That is how I live too: I always write down what I need and when I will cook it; this way I am able to hold myself accountable for the food I’ve bought, for the furniture I own, but also for my finances. Finances are also a part of being sustainable.

Q >In which ways do you personally support sustainable fashion?

A > I pass down my clothes to my siblings and cousins; when a family member has a newborn, trust me one of them will be getting the passed-down clothes too. If the clothes are too small for them then they are dropped off at our local church or at a vintage store where all proceeds are used to empower the community. 

Another way is through a yearly voluntary subscription where one can donate clothes to a small factory where they are broken down and recycled into fabric that can be reused. 

I share where to shop sustainable clothing, interior decor, food, accessories and how to travel sustainably on my Instagram

When given an opportunity such as a magazine interview or seminar, I try to share information about sustainable living in the hopes that someone who comes across that article can take something meaningful and valuable from it.

Q >Because it’s championed by the likes of high-end labels like Stella McCartney, sustainable fashion is sometimes seen as something very expensive and out-of-reach for a lot of people. What are the ways in which fashion-lovers on a budget can they incorporate sustainability into what they wear?

A > Keep what you already have, do not throw it away! Buy ethically produced garments even if it’s 3 or 4 a year… this goes a long way rather than buying cheap garments that were poorly manufactured under poor labour conditions. Rather than overloading your wardrobe with clothes (yes it might look aesthetically pleasing on Instagram) — the reality is you are most likely not going to wear many of those outfits.

The best place for fashion lovers to shop is at pop-up stores at a local market. You can find communities like these on Facebook or even Instagram. I have found preowned designers/vintage luxe items at these markets along with locally and ethically manufactured items. This way when styling you have a balance of your luxury pre-owned items and the locally made items — doing this means you are injecting money back into your community to create more job opportunities for smaller businesses to grow and hire locally as well as advocate for sustainable shopping. 

Attending or hosting clothing swaps is another way to shop sustainably. Your friends might have the best fashion items that you might love and vice versa. Renting clothes is also sustainable and practical. 

Another way is to buy sustainable fabric and find a local seamstress to create a garment for you. This way you are creating job opportunities for your local community members and you are not contributing to shopping impulsively but rather getting an item that you need, rather than an item you want because you are experiencing FOMO (fear of missing out) on the latest got-to-have fashion items.

Q >Which of your social posts referencing sustainable fashion created the most buzz amongst your followers; why do you think it did so?

A > An outfit I wore out on a date with a friend. It was a current look and people at the restaurant kept asking “Where did you get it — is it still in store?” and I kept explaining that the whole outfit is from a few years back mixed with vintage pieces I was gifted by a friend. The look overall looked very chic, with one-of-a-kind-pieces, and polished. I think that’s what created the buzz. My audience got to see visually how stunning one can look in a sustainable outfit.

Q >Do you think influencers on social media are more important than magazines when it comes to spreading awareness about sustainable fashion? 

A > Influencers on social media are unfiltered; they are not audited on how they should speak to their unique audience; they are personal in their approach. They have this opportunity — this tool being social media — of having a platform where they are constantly speaking directly to the consumer and potential consumer; in the same breath they too are the consumers. An influencer is seen as the trusted source of information: they provide recommendations and ethical reviews, allowing the audience to be more willing/receptive to trialling a product or service. 

Both influencers and magazines need to cultivate a relationship between each other as it assists both to infiltrate different and sometimes sceptical audiences. Having an influencer in your corner or a magazine in your corner takes their (influencer and magazine) unique brands to greater heights in the ever-changing digital and media space, and also in the socio-economic space with Instagram, and recently with TikTok influencers having found unique ways to talk about relevant news. It is definitely a space worth being explored and utilised. 

Having an influencer interviewed by magazines assists the influencer in establishing themselves as a credible recipient, one that is respected and recognised as the expert in their unique field/niche. 

If anything, it would be wise for any brand to collaborate with influencers when wanting to get a message across. Influencers are not the competition: they are the answer to getting news out there locally and globally. Influencers are the ears on the ground and know exactly what the consumers’ needs are, how to capture the attention of a potential consumer, ones that people sitting in the boardrooms might miss out on or overlook, as they are not constantly in the field. Yes, magazines are powerhouses with talented reporters in their unique platforms and loyal audiences but they are still audited. The dialogue is still very much filtered.

Magazine reporters go to the field to collect data; influencers live in the field: they are the data; they are a part of the field and are active in conversations that need to be in those magazine pages or in the next socio-economic campaign. The key is for the two to collaborate. We are in a time where we should be learning and unlearning and should be open to doing that.

Q >What’s the most gorgeous thing you’ve bought from a thrift store?

A > The most gorgeous item I have that I bought at a thrift store is a flowery tea party dress; it’s timeless, fun, lavender and I have had it for almost three years now. That dress has showed up for me on many occasions and has made me stand out as the stylish woman that I am. Haha.

Q >Which is your favourite sustainable African fashion brand and why do you love them so much?

A > Matsidiso Shoes are my favorite brand. Their handcrafted shoes are designed in-house by Jinae and run in partnership with her husband, Christiaan. Matshidiso shoes are produced by their heritage family-run factory, with 20 years in the shoe manufacturing industry behind it, originally focusing on dance shoes and dance footwear. They have a personal approach towards their consumers, and in doing that they have created a very active sustainably conscious community. I have a few of their items that I have worn repeatedly and the integrity of their items is spectacular to date. The Matsidiso bespoke handbag and accessories range are an extension of their story. Working with a trust of women in Cape Town and in collaboration with design house, UGLEE, each bag is carefully crafted using only the finest leathers and materials that are locally sourced or created in-house. Quality and original designs that divulge a rich history of Africa are the essences of each design; nothing has been left out. Beyond this, Matsidiso uses their platform to build awareness around and raise money towards important socio-economic matters in Africa.

BENA Woman, the product of Xan Fraser, whose dream is to bring back much-loved, classic sleepwear. BENA believes that every woman’s favourite time of day should be the moment she slips on her luxury pair of pyjamas provoking feelings of relaxation and accomplishment. I couldn’t recommend them enough! 

Wearables By Isabel: clothing purposely designed and responsibly sourced by Isabel Briton. Curated to appeal to a constant-changing and unpredictable lifestyle, this range offers reliable and versatile designs that are wearable for all aspects of your life. Created from natural fabrics, these thoughtfully constructed designs care for you as you do them. Each garment has been purposefully put together to allow for mixing and matching of Wearables pieces amongst one another as well as into your personal wardrobe. Isabel is a very talented designer; I’ve had the privilege of owning some of her clothing and they always bring me a sense of calmness in the early morning when I’m journalling and having my cup of tea.

Q >What’s the most unconventional outfit you’ve ever worn, and what makes it different?

A > It was from a photoshoot that was put together by a group of good friends of mine Brandon Mphela, Tshepo Marcus Mgadule, and Mphumelelo Nyambi. I was dressed in cowrie shells designed by Ivorian artist and creative Lafalaise Dion.

In the ancient world the cowrie shell was a popular form of currency. The tiny mollusc was a significant feature along the African, Arab and Asian trade routes.

This was the most unconventional outfit I have worn — unconventional because African culture in the global fashion industry has been alienated for the longest time even though many of the looks/trends and patterns you see on the runway are inspired by Africa and its rich culture, textures and colours.

Africans have not truly received the full “dab” or recognition they deserve and respect, and this outfit created a space to learn and tapped into conversations I never in my wildest dreams dared to think nor dream. What I wore on this shoot started a conversation and highlighted that to be Black is to be Proud, to matter and to be human most importantly — “Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu”, which literally means that “a person is a person through other people”. Ubuntu has its roots in humanist African philosophy, where the idea of community is one of the building blocks of society.

Wearing this outfit made me feel enriched, it made me feel one with the soil, my African culture and my ancestors. Cowrie shells go well with any garment you might own; they are a one of a kind and bring a healing energy to how you look and feel. They can also be worn on their own, they are beautiful to look at and to wear. The collection features masks and headgear, and a series of body accessories.

If anything this particular look was and is a voice speaking and saying. I am Black and I matter in all the intricacy of my Black DNA; before me are my ancestors and they continue to guide me, protect me, and show me the true meaning of what it means to be alive, present, and connected to my higher self. Enriching all that may come to pass until my last breath. 

In the words of Lafalaise Dion: “Cowrie shells represent the African story”. It is the legacy left by my ancestors. It is a way for me to reconcile myself with the African spirituality, to show the world the richness and uniqueness of my culture.”

Q >You recently received the Influencer Award at the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards. Who are the other influencers out there who you feel truly walk the sustainable fashion talk and are worth a follow?

A >Kgomotso ‘Kiggy’ Kholoane: affectionately known as “Kiggy with the nice pants”. A small business owner & designer based in Johannesburg, Kiggy creates the most amazing pair of fly pants. Kiggy seeks to encourage “nationalistic consumerism” to inspire South Africans to implement the “spider web doctrine”, supporting local brands and ultimately contributing to the overall economic growth of South Africa. (To read more on what the spiderweb doctrine, refer to Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success, a Spider Web Doctrine, a controversial book by the former African Sun Times publisher/editor-in-chief, the late Dr. Chika Onyeani). 

Poppin Plants: Yas Claasse shares tips on how to shop low-waste, encourages sustainable living and veganism. Yas’s Insta page is definitely a go to: she highlights accessibility and affordability of food, fashion, slow beauty, and natural DIY tips. Everyone will find content that they can apply to their everyday lifestyle and implement it. 

Zizi Ntobongwa is a Transkei native, artist, entrepreneur, producer of Rewoven’s short film Indlela Yethu (Our Way Of Being) which debuted in 2020: a must watch. Zizi is founder of Shebafeminine, a brand offering 100% organic cotton & biodegradable tampons, day pads & panty liners packaged with recycled cardboard. Zizi would love to see more conscious consumerism from menstrual care products to feminine health products with an element of ingredient labels on sanitary pads and tampons. 

 

On social media, the eSwatini-born model and activist Nomfundo Liyanna Basini is known as Liyanna B. When she is not shooting magazine covers and fashion spreads, she chairs the Liyanna B Foundation aimed at spreading awareness and helping survivors of gender-based violence. Her family has been the biggest influence on her life and it is through them that she has learnt thrifting, patching, mending, and swapping.

Liyanna B; Aaniyah Omardien, founder of The Beach Co-op; and Jackie May from TWYG, at the TWYG Sustainable Fashion Awards 2020. Photo by Tash Singh

Liyanna B (model) — Amanda Laird Cherry cape and coat / Your Badge Statement bags. Photography: Sven Kristian; Styling: Charlotte Gindreau; Make-up: Dominique de Lange; Assistance: Erik Karl Zargoski (featured in Nataal)

Liyanna Basini (model) — The Bam Collective dress, AKJP dress, Sies Isabelle dress, Pichulik earrings. Photography: Sven Kristian; Styling: Charlotte Gindreau; Make-up: Dominique de Lange; Assistance: Erik Karl Zargoski (featured in Nataal)

Liyanna B (model) — Cowies: Lafalaise-dion; Photography: Brandon Mphela; Retouched: Tshepo Marcus Mgadule; Assistant: Mpumelelo Nyambi and Tshepo Marcus Mgadule

Liyanna B (model) — Wearables by Isabel / BENA