MASERU - Modelling is largely considered a feminine turf, especially in countries like Lesotho where the entertainment industry is only developing. But 29-year-old Thato Fonya of Upper Thamae Maseru is one of the few men that have broken that stereotype.
Fonya runs Tgee Innovations, which has a beauty and fashion show marketing wing and a modelling agency which he co-owns with Liotla Ts’ehlo. Fonya is a fashion and runaway (WHAT? maybe “runway” be careful) model with over nine years experience. His journey in the fashion and modelling industry started in 2009 when he scored a brand ambassadorship for a reputable clothing brand called African Pot (AP).
While at university, he was part of the team recruiting potential models for fashion shows and trainings. Because of his intense passion for modelling, he later started his own modelling agency, Tgee Modelling Agency, in 2014. Fonya, who is also a professional photographer, has successfully modelled for brands such as Twin Designs, Stevey Tailor and African Pot.
He utilises his photographic and modelling skills to select perfect beauty queens and kings. Below Fonya chats with ’Mapalo Nkheloane, Public Eye’s Lifestyle reporter.
PE: How and when did your modelling career start?
T.F: I started modelling in 2009. I have always been passionate about fashion; I have also always had a unique eye for the most trending style and I love neatness.
PE: Tell us about Tgee Modelling Agency.
T.F: Tgee Modelling Agency is a platform that aims at recruiting beauty queens and kings of Lesotho to become professional models by boosting their confidence, morals, as well as self-esteem to make modelling a defined career. The world will encourage people to go to school and have a career, which is not a bad thing because when you have knowledge through education you make informed decisions so we can say modelling is a career on the flipside. Some people are making a living strictly out of modelling; they pay bills with the salary and wages they earn from modelling.
PE: How does the agency generate money?
T.F: We make money in typically three different ways: we make our own fashion shows, we get bookings for other fashion shows, and then it is promotions at large (advertising). Our services include ushering, glamour models, editorials, fitness, promotional, fashion models, character models, and photography models. So that is basically how we make a living out of modelling.
PE: The modelling industry, especially in Lesotho, is female-dominated, any plans to change that?
T.F: That is very true. Yes, things related to beauty are mostly associated with women but when a suit is made, it is not only for ladies and that suit is also supposed to sell; so who is supposed to buy a male suit? The men. Bisexual people are usually the ones who love glamour and lifestyle and that is why a majority of them take that career path. The industry, however, right now is growing and most straight men are getting engaged and realising that modelling can be a career regardless of the perception from the public, especially looking at the high unemployment rate in the country.
PE: Was modelling something you always loved or it just kind of happened?
T.F: I have always admired beauty, well, not modelling per se but to be neat and to dress in a stylish way. So when I grew up I realised there are opportunities here and there through watching television. A lifestyle television show, Selimathunzi, inspired me to love it. It was the only programme that I knew back then that showcased the lifestyle. I never missed it because I always studied the new trends in the fashion industry. Then finally when I got to university, I took it seriously because it was then that I got to meet the right people and I realised I could make a career out of modelling.
PE: Do you ever become shy in front the camera?
T.F: To be honest, I never really become shy although as a human being automatically there will always be that fear regardless of how brave one may be but I always manage to keep my cool because as a professional model, you do not have to portray fear on stage.
PE: How many models have you recruited so far?
T.F: We have over 30 models. Like Mr Africa, Makhaola Majara who went to Mr Africa in South Africa and won; our models always win.
PE: What is the secret behind your models always winning?
T.F: Determination and devotion in the craft of modelling. Once you love it, it will love you back the same way and the only way to show that you love it is by working hard, by proving beyond reasonable doubt that you are indeed a professional model. A professional model is seen by attending practice. There must be improvement in lifestyle.
PE: What has been your favourite shoot, work or campaign?
T.F: There is a show we always make annually, Moshoeshoe’s Day Fashion Show. We always make sure it is a success because once a model adores his or her own culture, then all the fans will admire that so we create awareness of who we are. This is why most of our events and those we booked are heritage-based because we are proud of who we are. We are proud of our culture. We want to make it a point that the world knows who Basotho are. I wish the event could take place monthly but that is not possible. Other than that we are working hard to go international and I am hoping that the Lesotho Fashion Week event that will take place in November will unlock many doors.
PE: What is your greatest desire regarding the industry in Lesotho?
T.F: With the quality of models Lesotho has, we can go far with the industry but as for them being appreciated so that they can make a living out of the industry we are still way behind. The franchises in the country and stakeholders first have to support us. They should advertise using local models because in that way they will be improving the economy of the country and beating the high unemployment rate. In most cases when Lesotho is represented internationally, the activity that always brings victory home is modelling but you will be surprised that it’s least supported; government never budgets for it.