NTOMBI MOYO: Unapologetically fly
You know a Ntombi Moyo image when you see one. If she is not in it herself, you can be sure to feast your eyes on a celebration of colour, style and swagger that not only celebrates the wearer but, the clothes themselves.
Reputable for her extremely driven work ethic and a keen eye for detail, Moyo's work as a creative director extends across multiple platforms. From photographic stills to video and television, her unique style, and charisma can be seen in fashion campaigns, music videos and model portfolios.
A much-needed bombshell in the Australian fashion scene, Ntombi Moyo has an eye for and deep understanding of how blackness and fashion come together in the highest degree, and we are all the better for it.
MEET NTOMBI MOYO
NTOMBI MOYO. My dad was an international tennis player born in Zimbabwe, in the time of the war he ran off to Zambia. When he was travelling and playing internationally in Zimbabwe, he met my mother who was a nurse at the time. My mum’s people, the Zulu people, had also run off from South Africa to Zimbabwe so in a similar way she was also displaced. They became known as the Ndebele people. When they met, my father left the tennis life to be with her back in Zimbabwe.
I was born in Zimbabwe but I have connections to Zambia now because a lot of my dad's side went there, then there’s our history in South Africa too!…it’s complicated [laughs]. Southern African is the best way to describe me because I’m from the bottom three countries in Southern Africa.
I was always in those three countries in rotation before I came to Australia in 2005.
THE PIN. Were you surrounded by family growing up?
NM. My immediate family is basically my parents and myself. Then last year discovered I have a sister...so I now have a sister and there are four of us in my immediate life. Then extended family wise, my grandfather on my dad's side had four wives, each of those wives had 8 - 10 children. I basically have a gazillion aunties and uncles. Everyone in that family had a lot of children, except for my mum, my mum only had one child, and only because she had cancer so she couldn’t have any more children after, so she just had me. Everyone else had mad children. On my mum's side, it is a lot smaller, it’s basically just her mum and her brother but he has been missing for some years.
Growing up what was your schooling like and who were you when you were a teenager? I read that you always wanted to be in charge of your own business…
NM. I guess I hate being told what to do [laughs]. So it always made sense that I would work for myself. Even when I was working for other people, I’d get mad and be like, ‘why don’t you do it then?’ when they would tell me what to do. If I want to do something I’ll do it myself.
In terms of schooling life, I hated school. I hated the system of being told when and how long you're allowed to be somewhere or when you can go and play. I felt that way through most of my schooling life but, I did well in school thankfully. I found it quite easy which is a blessing (Uni did get a little real though!). It allowed me to not be super serious which I was grateful for.
How did your interest in clothing, fashion, and styling begin?
NM. I started working really young. Back home I was brought up to be a hustler and just go out and earn some money. I remember at the age of 13 or 14 I was ready to work. I got a job at KFC (that was my first job!), I was only there for a few months because I hated feeling oily all the time but, I wanted that money - you know?!
Then I started looking for other jobs, and I knew I wanted to work in a store because it seemed cleaner and fun. I was obviously too young to be working at a store, but I had befriended one of the managers at a store called Bardot, and I got the job. I worked there for about seven years! I worked at the head office and did stock control at the start, but I had a lot of different roles there. At Bardot, I loved being around clothes and I got discounts on clothing... it also gave me the experience of dressing people. I never looked at it as anything more than a job but, obviously, I was getting experience in styling and knowledge of what was coming out in seasonal fashion. Even though I was just gaining information, I didn’t think I’d use it for anything. At the time, I was on track to study law, then I chose to major in Business Management. That was the track. It was never fashion.
When did fashion start to become the main focus?
NM. Fashion was always a fun thing that I think I started doing it as a way to feel good about myself. I would dress in a way that would make me feel confident amongst society, as well as seeing it as a fun little game I’d play for myself. After a couple of years, people started asking me to help out with styling for shoots and videos, it eventually became such a regular thing. I knew my path was a corporate life, so I never took styling seriously because it was a hobby, and I could do it with my eyes closed. I’ve always been a hustler so I was like, ‘cool I can get money from this!? Okay,’. I was always mucking around with styling, and then I was making money from it, then all of a sudden, I was deep in it and realised this could be a career. That realisation was honestly only in 2017, even though I have actually been working in this industry since I was 14. That was pretty shocking to me.
When it comes to a look whether its for yourself or someone else, where do you start?
NM. Over the years I’ve developed an obsession with fashion pieces. My style has always centered around that obsession. I fall in love with things I see every day, whether it’s a dope jacket or it’s a really wild bag or something. I think how can I get this into my life? I would love to say that I meet a person and then find the right thing for them but, I fall in love with clothing and statement pieces, and then I hope the people I am catering for also fall in love with them. I hope people like what I like, even though I should be saying it revolves around the person - no?
It might come from not taking things too seriously, hey?! Someone else might overthink everything but, I just say, 'come to have fun, try some things on'. Maybe that’s where the confidence and fun factor comes in. It might make people feel they can rock it.
You’re definitely a part of your brand, what does it mean to be in this industry right now considering all the changes that are happening and the way in which people seek other creatives through social media locally and internationally?
NM. Working from Australia, the social climate is pretty intense. We know how it is racially here, and that is something that I always have in a small part of my mind. What has been a blessing for me is I am always myself wherever I go. Whether I’m doing corporate jobs, shoots with artists, or shoots with people I haven’t met before I go there. I’m myself, I am my full black self. I don’t try and sound a certain way to make anyone more comfortable.
I was doing ads for Toni and Guy, in a room full of Caucasian people, and I was there dancing, laughing, and being my own unapologetic black self. I have to be myself, for myself. I think that’s what’s helped me deal with the social climate of being here.
Throughout your career, what are the stand out moments for you?
NM. One is one that’s coming which I’m super excited for is that I'll be working the Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Week 2019. Basically, they ’re allowing me into their fashion museum with these wild and delicate fashion pieces and I get to create a live installation. It’s crazy to be granted access to them. It’s going to be really wild for me, and it’s something I am really excited about.
Working on film and TV has been really cool too. I haven’t really posted that work on Instagram or other socials, partly, because a lot of the stuff hasn’t come out. I did a really cool TV series at the end of 2018, and working on TV, as opposed to music videos, is interesting and different. Music videos are my first love because you get to know the artist and have fun in a music space so, I didn’t think that I’d enjoy TV as much but, I am.
Afropunk, let’s talk about that.
NM. Yes, it was amazing.
I felt like I was there with you! I feel like I just lived this hyperreal world through you. How was that experience? When did you start planning for it? Is it something that will be a continuous thing for you?
NM. I go to Afropunk for the fashion, to be honest. I love music so much but, I also love just sitting and people watching and talking to the artists and creatives that are around. It’s a really safe atmosphere for creativity - exaggerated creativity - which is something I appreciate. I feel like everyone is always too scared to take their creative selves to the extreme or the most exaggerated, on the everyday.
So when I went to New York in 2018, I was committed to having fun at Afropunk. I had ordered the look online for the first day, a week before Afropunk happened, and luckily it all came together. Hair is also such a big expression of who we are as people of colour, so I knew that I wanted to have my hair as "the thing" and had a hairstyle in mind. I didn’t really think about my outfits as such, it was definitely all last minute and based on what was around.
There’s always hints of African-ness throughout your work, and I feel like you’re one of the first stylists I’ve seen coming out of Australia who is bringing this unexplainable pride of Africa through your work. Is that something that is just part of you or is it something you’re conscious of?
NM. My thought on this is that it all comes down to being yourself. I remember when I was a kid, one of my friends, Manal Younus, told me she liked that I was always myself. I remember looking at her saying ‘who else was I going to be?’. I’ve never known to be anything else, and I guess that’s infused in everything I do because there is so much power in that. I’m really grateful for being around people and friends who heavily embrace who they are. People you don’t get to see on social media that I’m around all the time. Strong women who are just unapologetic. Women of colour who own who they are. I don’t even think about it. Wherever I go, I'm always going to be me.
At the moment, I’m doing some shoots for the Human Rights Commission, going to the government and being myself has been really interesting. Just watching them, watching me [laughs]. I’m never going to tone down for someone else to be comfortable. I never thought of it as something that is courageous but, because everyone seems to make such a big deal out of it, I’m now seeing it as something that isn’t that easy for a lot of people to do.
I definitely encourage people to just be themselves unapologetically wherever they go. And if they’re not making space for you, go to where you’re centered and where you’re celebrated for who you are. Never lose sight of that, no matter where it all takes you. That’s where the beauty and power is; if you’re trying to be someone else - it’s never going to work.
THE PIN. If you could give your younger self one piece of advice about being in the skin you’re in, what would it be?
NTOMBI MOYO. Believe that you are special. I think everyone is special, but I think you need to understand that you’re special as an individual. When it came to my skin I always knew that it was fly. I always saw black people and people of colour and knew I was blessed. The way we dance, the way we speak, the way we laugh with joy. That ease of life, that giving, the generosity, that’s African culture. I wouldn’t trade that for anything.
Published February 6, 2019
Find Ntombi Moyo on Instagram, YouTube & Twitter
Photo & video credit: Head-shot by Batel Yona
All visual content provided by Ntomi Moyo
This interview has been edited and condensed