This year New York Fashion Week (NYFW) saw a young South African television host perfectly perched by the Federal Hall National Museum moments before she attended her first NY Fashion Week show by Staud Clothing. Founded by 29 year old Sarah Staudinger, in just a few years Staud has achieved a valuation of $20 million and has been described as “having a unique point of view amidst a sea of sameness” by one of her investors.

The connection between Staudinger and Thabethe extends beyond the fabric of fashion.

Like Staudinger, Thabethe can equally be described as having a unique point of view amidst a sea of sameness, especially if one considers her playground – the local TV industry.

Ayanda Thabethe
Ayanda Thabethe
Ayanda Thabethe
Ayanda Thabethe
Ayanda Thabethe
Ayanda Thabethe
Ayanda Thabethe
Ayanda Thabethe
Ayanda Thabethe
Ayanda Thabethe

Emerging from Durban, the unique tailoring of Thabethe’s journey begins with the danger of doubt. Sitting quite comfortably in the library-come-makeshift hair, makeup and styling room in the upstairs library quarters of Rosebank’s Everard Read’s art gallery Thabethe shared, “This scar that I have on my face is one I’ve had since a young age. I never thought I’d be asked to be the face of brands because of it but look at me today. My height is something I cannot change as well – I doubted that I would have the opportunities I’ve had to model, but again, look at me now”. The outcomes of her journey are an example of how opportunities with your name on them can release power from the danger of doubt and pour it into the promise of possibility. Poet Rumi captured it succinctly in his words, “what you want, wants you”  where all the forces of the Universe conspire to make one’s want a reality, despite any seeming circumstances.

The foremost voice of the feminist movement, Gloria Steinem once said, “To me, the model of success is not linear. Success is completing the full circle of yourself”. In a sea of sameness in the local tv industry, Thabethe’s journey emerges as a distinct one – it’s a journey of an evolution where her beginnings in her career have come back to resurface in a way that serves her back.

Thabethe outlined this during our one-on-one when she said, “I’ve had a different journey to most people in the industry. It’s something that I appreciate because it’s worked for me. I have two marketing degrees – an undergraduate and an honours degree in Marketing, I worked in the medical field at Johnson & Johnson selling medical devices and diagnostics. I went on to sell pharmaceutical products then I went onto be a brand manager at L’Oréal.”

Ayanda’s career to-date reads like the remake of the film Pretty Woman, only better.

While Julia Roberts’ character was shown a whole new world through the help of romantic fate, Thabethe has managed to do that for herself and by herself by evolving from managing brands to becoming the founder of her own company, Buzzworthy Productions, that would in turn become a service provider for L’Oréal brands. She didn’t stop there. This woman whose beauty puts any ordinarily pretty woman to shame has herself become the face of beauty and fashion retail brands such as Pond’s and Forever New respectively.

Loved for the TV co-hosting she does on shows such as Top Billing and Celebrity Game Night which is soon-to-air on E! Entertainment on the 28th October, Thabethe’s brand-centric career has come full-circle in that the brands that she needed to be associated with for the sake of her CV now need to be associated with her for the sake of their staying power. Thabethe’s well-rounded perspective and experience as a tv anchor sets her apart distinctly due to her understanding of the business of brands – a process which has contributed to building the business of the name “Ayanda Thabethe”. It’s no coincidence that the brands she’s managed and now leads are beauty-centric.

Evolution, in the scientific sense is understood as the change in characteristics of a species over several generations and relies on the process of natural selection. If her natural beauty is anything to go by, then Thabethe received a steady advantage in the natural selection process. Unlike the usual narrative that has seen people leave a secure job or home with no plan but to “make it” in the entertainment industry, Thabethe’s approach was more calculated and tells the tale of a strategically evolving exit from corporate to (on-screen) camera.

“I always wanted to be part of the entertainment industry”, Thabethe says.

“Whether I had free time or during my lunch break, I would go and audition. Slowly I built up my portfolio. Testament to the importance of having a standard of excellence, no matter the task at hand, I was approached by Connie Ferguson of Ferguson Films for Season 1 of Rockville who had seen the many small snippets of roles I had managed to rack up during all those lunch breaks.”

In unpacking the brand-building career process she’s had to go through for the Ayanda Thabethe brand, Thabethe says, “One of my favourite quotes is that it takes a long time to become an overnight success.” These words, once uttered by Amazon founder and billionaire Jeff Bezos are a great reminder of the fact that any industry, especially one such as the tv industry takes years of commitment and hard work and in the case of a true evolution, is compounded by the years of hard work others whom have come before us have put in to ensure that doors eventually open a lot easier at the mention of a solidly built brand name. A true evolutionary process, such as the one Thabethe is experiencing, reminds us of the idea that we are the result of 4 billion years of evolutionary success and at the very least, we should act like it.

That evolutionary success and the direct impact it has had on Thabethe’s life, has led to her making peace with the many cliché’s of the industry that have not been part of her narrative as she says, “I got into the industry quite late but it happened how it was supposed to happen….I’m from a small town in KZN and have beat many odds to build a name for myself. The challenges and cliché’s are what I love because I thrive in an environment where I have to prove the naysayers wrong. It’s unfortunate that it’s something that I should have to do. When I tell people that I have two degrees and worked in the medical field – they’re always surprised. However, that has made me who I am.”

Thabethe has managed to preserve and steadily have her career evolve through a deliberate decision to build and protect her reputation. Thabethe shared how with her thoughts, “ I have preserved my reputation through my set of principles and goals. It’s important to have an end-goal in mind and to be surrounded by good people who want the best of you. This will always bring you back to your centre and that which matters the most.”

True to the saying that evolution is inevitable and growth is optional, it’s evident that Thabethe chooses to grow through this evolutionary process of hers. She’s quite decided in the route in which she intends to grow as she says, “The next chapter of my life is all about ownership. I want to transcend from being the face to being the owner. I want to be a greater version of myself – a woman with impeccable value in terms of the spaces that I own.”

Ayanda, whose name means “they are increasing”, is indeed increasingly defining success for herself by coming full circle into this phase of her career as the tv industry’s beauty brand centric figurehead. Today, her face and body are the beauty and fashion brand prime real estate. To claim knowledge of true evolution is to also claim the quest for more.Thabethe closes our conversation in a way that further showcases her current head-space that’s future-proof and growth-driven when she says, “My life now is as much an end as it in a beginning. Many of the things I have wanted are things that I have achieved. I feel like I am in a phase of evolution.”

It was naturalist, geologist and biologist Charles Darwin who once said that “Evolution is written on the wings of butterflies”. Judging by the evolutionary success of her career to-date, it is no wonder that Thabethe is in full butterfly mode on the verge of flying a brand manufactured by her company, quite high.

Editor-In-Chief: @foreveronke
Video Direction: @keso112
Video Direction & Editor: @creative_senzo
DOP: @ryan_uys
Cam Ops: @stichxsmb
Cam Ops: @sirndoux
Sound: @neonat8
Photographer: @jefflovesphotography
Assisted By: @evryday_matters
Make-Up: @bk_makeupartist
Hair: @iambomzi
Fashion Director: @karinorzol
Wardrobe: in collaboration with @marlenehettie; @biji_la_maison
Graphics: @edsonmanusi

Paintings: AQUA by Heather Gourlay Conyngham