Check out my #ItTakesCourage interview on TouchCentral FM with Arye and Kat.
So it's my second day back in SA, and as an awesome welcome home, Ayre Kellman invited me back onto the show, this time with your MCM Maps Maponyane to discuss what our dinner table convo would be like. Thank you again to both Ayre and Kat for an awesome show, and to Maps for being a wonderful and engaging friend. Have a listen below!Read More
'This week we are featuring fashion writer, cultural anthropologist and vegan foodie, Kenny Jules Morifi-Winslow. You don't want to miss this new it-girl and her favourite style tips. Sign up for emails at plandevillenyc.comRead More
I had the pleasure of being hosted by Ayre Kellman on his radio segment on CliffCentral.com. This was a few days ahead of the Meeting of The Minds: South Africa's Enterprising Next Generation conference I was invited to speak at. Here is the podcast, where we talk New York, Fashion and growing up different.Read More
In case you missed my Phreshman feature, here it is. Also, be sure to check out the really dope blog here, to keep up with student culture in SA.
Who is Kenny?
I always have such a hard time answering this kind of question. It’s difficult to define yourself in terms other people can understand, or are even open to hearing. I’m a work in progress, I guess. On paper, I’m a 23 year old mixed race South African young woman living in New York, but the subtext of that statement? I’m the product of two very political parents from opposite corners of the world. I’ve lived in 4 different cities, in 3 different countries, speak 2 languages fluently and have only 1 chance to make that all mean something. I’m a vegan Digital Anthropologist with a Bachelors Degree in Art History, Anthropology and Media, an Honours Degree in Anthropology (both from UCT) and am currently pursuing a Masters Degree in fashion Studies from Parsons School of Design, here in New York. I’m specialising in Sustainable and Ethical Design, and am fascinated by the politics of fashion. I’m a writer, a lover, a blogger, aspiring game changer, and a host of goals still yet to be achieved. That’s a good start I think.
What do you do for a living?
I am fortunate enough to not have to work for a living yet, so most of what I do is out of pure passion. I’m a brand influencer and freelance writer contributing for digital publications such as my own blog IIIRD CITIZEN and Mad Mash, a new lifestyle App for young people. I do intermittent Social Media Management work for digital brands such as Plan de Ville, an e commerce platform for emerging designers in New York, and GBNYC, a digital marketing agency.
I’ve done odd jobs here and there in the past to gain experience, internships at Coty International in Paris (product development), Metropolitan Republic in Johannesburg (copywriting) and Emporio Armani in Cape Town (visual merchandising), but have yet to settle into a formal role. It’s hard to find a position that encompasses all my pasions and goals, so I’m trying to carve one out for myself. Since I’m still a student, my flexible schedule allows me to do a lot of things in between completing my thesis, one of which is developing an e commerce platform specifically for luxury sustainable design on the African continent, that will be launching early next year.
What inspires you?
At a very basic level, I’m inspired by my environment. Growing up the way I did, you learn to adapt to change, be open minded and curious. That influenced the way I absorb information, I try to take in as much as I can from the world directly around me; think of it as a survival tactic gone right.
At a conceptual level though, I’m inspired by architecture, that happens when you’re accustomed to getting lost in new places; by literature, in particular the leather bound books in my father’s office; by music, specifically the old school jazz my mother sings while cooking; by art, and most importantly, by the abundance of dynamic people I meet on a daily basis in my very colourful life. Good design makes magic out of the little things.
Why is education important to you?
My love of learning came from a place of wanting to understand myself better. I needed to contextualise my parents’ experience as an interracial couple under apartheid, I needed to understand why my dad made me read To Kill A Mockingbird twice, why people think Kenny is a boy’s name, and I needed to understand, why I needed to understand these things.
That’s the part I think a lot of people forget. Education is not only the key to a better financial future for yourself, your family and your country, it’s also the key to understanding your fellow man, and isn’t that the key to everything? I think so at least. In order to affect change, you must understand it, and if people are agents of change, we must understand them first. That’s why I went to Anthropology before Fashion, even though it was my ultimate goal. I needed to establish a framework of thought from which to approach a subject that is so highly saturated with opinions. Learning things, helps you unlock other things you still have yet to know about. It’s an endless endevour, and I’m grateful to have been able to study this far. I hope to take it to PhD level eventually, but my learning itself will never be finished, and I’m lucky that my youth comes with an abundance of life left to pursue it.
What are your top 5 must have items for students?
Well, what my 6 years of study have taught me is that the top 5 must haves for ANY student who wants to succeed are all things you can’t buy in shops or online, if you could, trust me, I would have.
1. A steady support system. Be it your family, friends, social networks or classmates, establish a steady support system because when things get really tough, and believe me, things will get tough, cute stationary isn’t going to help you push passed the hurdles you are sure to face. Like-minded, goal oriented friends you can study with, family you can call for comfort or a boost of determination, or a professor you have a mutual respect relationship with who can remind you that countless students before and after you, have felt and will feel, all of the things that you do. It’s not easy to do this education thing, so don’t do it alone.
2. Balance. Work hard, but an important part of studying is being social. Balance out the way you use your brain, establish networks with people who you could learn from and possibly teach. Go to social events outside of your comfort zone, expand a little bit so that all that knowledge you’re learning in class, has somewhere to go in the world. Also, this will keep you sane.
3. Health. This is a must have a lot of us neglect. Mental, physical and emotional health, all contribute to your academic experience and performance. Take care of your body, try and eat things that nourish instead of drain you (I once ate plain yoghurt and 2 minute noodles only, for a month straight, bad idea). Also, and this is something I feel like we don’t talk about enough as a generation, your sexual health is extremely important. Get regular check ups, get tested, familiarize yourself with your student health center and the services they offer. Explore all your options and resources when it comes to your sexual health. The subject is no longer taboo, but with that freedom comes a lot of responsibility, so be smart about yours and stay informed.
Take care of your mind, make time for your passions and hobbies, time to relax and decompress. And take care of your well being. Make time for friends, do new things and try new foods, anything it takes to keep your heart happy and in tune with the rest of you. I joined a handful of campus societies in my first year like Wine Soc and Social Waterpolo, and that helped. Universities have the highest rates of undiagnosed depression, and it’s something we really need to be better about tackling, so look out for each other too, care of others is self-care in the mirror.
4. Have a plan. This is a must have that kept me driven on all those late nights I spent up crying over my work, or racing against a deadline. Have a plan for your goals; why are you here, what do you have to do to get to the next stage. What is your plan B if you fail something, or your ambitions change. How much time do you have to achieve certain things, and what happens if you don’t. I had a 5 year plan that is about to come to an end as I graduate with this Masters, and am currently in the process of figuring out what my next plan is. It’s tough, but when nothing else makes sense, the plan will.
5. And lastly, you must have hope. Don’t let that 8 am Monday lecture (I literally had one for 2 years in a row), or that professor you’re sure has a grudge against you, discourage you (I’m pretty sure he/she doesn’t). Have hope. You will get through it. You will finish. You will enjoy it, and when you graduate, you will miss it.
MY top 5 things that money CAN buy though:
1. A durable bag. I carry a large leather tote bag to school with both a shoulder strap and short handles. Carrying a laptop or textbooks around is both heavy and inconvenient, but if you’ve ever had a strap break on campus (like I have), you know you must invest in something sturdy.
2. A classic pair of sunglasses. If you’re anything like me, mornings can be a miserable time, mostly for people who have to engage with me before 10 o’clock and 2 cups of coffee, but I never leave home without my shades, at least that way I can hide my misery.
3. Comfortable shoes. I’m not much of a sneaker head, so my go to shoes are usually casual brogues or loafers.
4. A Raincoat. I went to UCT, and those of you who do/did too know that Cape Town is unpredictable and rain can come at you side ways. My good people, an umbrella won’t save you. Get yourself a swag raincoat/drimac and keep it handy in your bag or in your car during the winter time; because there is nothing cute about sludging across campus looking like a wet dog, that goes for all campuses.
5. Hand sanitizer. Guys, the world is a filthy place.
Who is Kenny Morifi-Winslow? And where is she?
I have no idea. I am becoming. What, I’m not sure. But like sculptures in clay, I find myself emerging. I mean I have specs, like a new car would, or a smartphone hahaha. I was born in Cape Town, moved to Singapore for a little as a small child, moved back to Cape Town briefly, and then moved to London. I spent the vast majority of my formative years in London, a place I consider to be the catalyst to my journey of self construction. We moved back to South Africa, where I finished my last 2 years of high school in Johannesburg. By now I’m sure you’ve gathered I’m nomadic. I went back to Cape Town for varsity, because I wasn’t sure I was ready to move as far as New York just yet, and did my first two degrees at UCT. Before heading into my honours year though, I applied to the school of my dreams, this time for a Master’s, closed my eyes and hoped for the best. I now live in New York City. I should write a travel guide hahahaha.
What did you study as an undergraduate degree?
I was a triple major at UCT, specialising in Anthropology, Art History and Media and Writing. Along the way though, I took some English courses, french courses (I didn’t want to lose my second language), and some gender courses. My approach to life is to attack it from as many angles as possible. Philosophy taught me things that helped me understand gender, and gender taught me things that now help me understand fashion. You have to be dynamic. Anthropology however was the greatest foundation I could have ever asked for, because to understand how to understand people, is the basis of everything in this world. Just to be able to ask the right questions is invaluable if you want to have any real impact on your environment.
For your Honours, what was your research topic? (Topic of Thesis)
So I did my honours in Anthropology, but at that level you pretty much have the luxury to design your own curriculum. I did my research on the evolving identity of print textile in South Africa. Fashion isn’t yet a recognised and legitimate field of study in SA yet, so I struggled to find materials and mentors at first, but I was lucky enough that my thesis supervisor was mentoring a PhD candidate who was a professor at Lisof, so she connected me with her and she really helped guide me. Now though, I have all the resources I could possibly want, to be able to continue my research interests, even from a continent away.
It’s been just over 20 months since you have moved to study in New York City, tell us how has the great move been? And what are you doing in NYC?
If I’m honest, it was much harder than I was anticipating. When you dream about something, you often leave out the really basic admin, like, how expensive your dream neighbourhood is, or how small the apartments are, or how expensive a cosmopolitan of Sex and The City fame, really is. My family was only there for about 6 days, and then left. So I did the apartment hunting, school shopping, life assembling thing, all on my own. I cried every day for my first two weeks. It all just seemed too much. I remember calling my mom and begging her to come back, that broke her heart. But she told me that this was a test, that I was being tested to see how badly I wanted this, but if I chose to, she would bring me back home on the next flight out. I stayed.
Since then though, I have met some of the most inspiring and creative people I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. In a program of 33 students, the largest Parsons has ever had for this particular program (it's only 5 years old), I have found home in my classmates. Some fully fledged industry professionals, others political science majors following their dreams, and then me, one of the youngest in the class. It’s really incredible. New York City is so much more than I thought it would be. Even just walking around the city on a Saturday morning after brunch (brunch is a very real and serious thing to New Yorkers, a whole other meal time) becomes the greatest adventure.
How is it studying at Parsons?
I never want to leave. I have dreamt about this my whole life, and now that I'm here I’m trying my very hardest to be present in every moment. I get excited to go to school every morning, it’s so nerdy hahaha. I sat in on an undergraduate class one week because they had a guest speaker from BuzzFeed. On the elevator ride down after class, I had a conversation with a flamboyant young student. I complimented him on his scarf, it was kind of a two tone, double sides, monochrome, deconstructed scarf situation in a reinforced jersey fabric with rough seams. His response? ‘Oh my god thank you so much. It’s Margiela….well not really, I interned for them so they are sponsoring all the fabric for my thesis collection, I make random stuff with the offcuts, this scarf is one them. So it’s Margiela textile but, my own creation.’ I almost passed out in the lift. Have you ever heard something like that? Those are the kinds of people I go to school with. A classmate of mine has just launched an eCommerce website for independent luxury jewellery and apparel designers and I helped her set up the holiday pop up store last year, on the store's third day open, we had a mention in Vogue.com. Parsons has the worlds foremost fashion scholars behind it’s doors, every resource you could ever ask for, I mean, on my orientation tour, the first thing they showed us in the library was the hardcover collection of every Vogue magazine ever printed, in every country. It was mind blowing. Every day is mind blowing. I’m beyond grateful and so proud of myself for saying I would and then doing it.
Which city do you prefer living in Jhb, Cpt, NYC, or London? And tell us why?
Picking a favourite city would be like compartmentalising my personality; segmenting my identity. Each of those cities represented are a part of my story, a journey, a facet of my conception of self. I travel between the four cities all year, so I never really lose touch with either. I have learnt to be a chameleon, to adapt quickly and sharply to a new place or situation, survival techniques. But now that I have adjusted, all those places are home. Cape Town, will always be very dear to my heart, I think I became a woman there. London is like an old friend, I started to define the person I wanted to become there, but I will forever have an illicit love affair with Johannesburg. If Johannesburg was one of the elements, she would be earth. I feel she grounds me, rubs clay on my cheeks and then sends me back into the world a new kind of warrior.
To you what is the epitome of substance in a woman?
People usually insert some cheesy quote by Coco Chanel, or Diane Von Furstenburg, or if you really know your stuff, Eleanor Roosevelt…I think it’s much simpler than that. To be ineffable, you must be deeply you, to the core, unshakable. It’s so easy to get caught up in so many of the wrong things, especially in a place like South Africa, where everyone basically knows everyone, and the worlds overlap across cities. The epitome of substance in a women, in that context, is the resolution to hold onto yourself. Be smart and unashamed of it. Have goals and chase them. Carry yourself in a way that the woman you want to be, would be proud of. I respect people who are always on a learning curve, always trying to know the world better, and by that I don’t mean academically. I mean having open eyes, open hearts, and open hands.
In your career what do you aspire to?
Without giving away too much, the singular word that I wake up to every morning, that I remind myself of when I sit down to write a paper, is “change”. I want the world to notice us, Africa. I want them to see us as relevant, changing, evolving, producing, rebuilding, leading and succeeding. I want to be the icon of South African fashion scholarship, I want to be the person the world thinks of when they think of Africa and fashion in a sentence together. I want to be heard. Does that make sense? It’s not enough that international designers bite elements of indigenous cultures for their collections, because none of that recognition filters back down to us. I’ve written countless papers on the detrimental effect of ignorant cultural appropriation, and it’s a topic that close to my heart. My goal, Vogue Africa.
With your studies, and being so young, in the end with all the knowledge that you learnt at school what is it exactly that you want to do with your degree, where do you want to work?
In fashion, you really have to start from the bottom and work your way up. But…I cant even define a job title for myself, so I wouldn’t even know where to start. I know the kinds of places I would like to work to gain experience, like Commes des Garcons, Margiela, Chloe, Givenchy and YSL, but the real victory would be to work for myself, start my own company. We’ll see. I’m of the opinion I can do whatever I want, so when I decide on something, I will do it and get back to you hahaha.
What inspires your style?
My style is very simple. I don’t wear make up (apart from lipstick occasionally for a pop of colour), and my hair is always in it’s naturally curly state. I’m mixed race (obviously), and finding a balance between my two heritages was always a challenge growing up. I love androgyny and menswear for women. It kind of blurs the lines between the gender, race and class binaries that I’ve needed to navigate all my life. I lead quite a colourful life, so my colour palette wardrobe wise literally consists of black, white, grey, navy blue and olive green. Everything. Being so limited in my colour taste has taught me to understand and respect the value of cut, tailoring, shape and texture. I respect fashion in a different way to ‘trendy/cool’. I’m inspired by the Apartheid jazz age, of romance in turmoil, by the strength designers like Yohji Yamamoto impart onto the colour black for women, and the YSL woman who can fall in love in trousers.
What has been the best advice you received?
One foot in front of the other.