On Style: Sim Tshabalala

As one of Durban’s foremost  fashion entrepreneurs and event specialists, Mr Sim Tshabalala has created a number of properties that have become KwaZulu-Natal social calendar and over the years has helped innumerable young creatives carve a discernible path in their chosen industry. He spoke to us about business, beards, being an active uncle, health and his epic battle with a certain designer. 

noted.man: You have created various properties over the years that have illuminated KZN’s position in the Fashion and Lifestyle landscape, if you were not modest about your impact, how would you characterise it?
Sim Tshabalala: Over the past 5-8 years there are various properties that I have created and/or been instrumental in creating and growing. Fashion By The Sea (FBTS), whose aim was not only to promote local designers but also to celebrate the destination (Durban) via this Fashion Tourism property. Furthermore FBTS is a celebration of homegrown talent, whether or not they now live in other regions or countries. In doing this, one was proud of the fact that KZN/Durban was/is the home or creative birthplace of many of the countries top artists/designers/musicians (overall creative industries).
The Lifestyle Oasis brand, which started off as a unique hospitality offering at the Durban July, has been extended into other spheres within the Lifestyle brand space. In terms of its original offering in 2004 – this property was the first of its kind at the Durban July for the main market.
Durban Fashion Fair – as much as the property is owned and initiated by the Ethekwini Municipality, it was one’s creative input, passion and long-standing relationships (nationally) that have seen this brand grow from strength to strength, promoting and developing over 100 young designers and elevating local talent nationally and internationally.
NM: Given your name, how often do you get mistaken for the CEO of a bank?
 ST: Often… in fact I have even had some random people on social media proposition me or request random favours, thinking I am “the other” Sim Tshabalala.
 NM: What are the ingredients for a perfect event?
 ST: Hmmm…a calm client and great creative concepts, these will drive all else that makes the event. After all, too many people have (off late) ventured into this industry and sadly given it a bad name in some ways, and this is primarily due to not having a strong strategy, and original concepts or creativity, making what may have been done before, yours or unique.


NM: You are a committed uncle to your siblings’ children. As someone who doesn’t have children of his own – at least not that I know of  – does this come easy to you?
ST: Yes I don’t have any children of my own… however having come from a very large family, where our mother’s support and drive was of the utmost in all facets of our upbringing, it has come naturally for me to be as active as I am as a doting uncle and support to my siblings (when needed). Most importantly, I have committed myself to being uBaba omncane to my late brother’s kids, and though I don’t have my own kids – take my “traditionally” placed fatherly role towards them very seriously, and love and care for them as my own.
NM: You went to a traditional all boys’ school that, although a very good school, no doubt exhibited some of the toxic masculinity we see in the majority of boys’ schools around the country, contributing to the levels of aggression we see in many boys and men in South Africa. What kind of values do you hope your nephew learns while at the same school and what practical role do you think male figures can play in young men’s lives?
ST: I am not sure if I agree that the “majority” of boys’ schools exhibit toxic masculinity. There was some and usually it comes out from an imbalance at home for some of the boys that attended such institutions. However, I suppose I was lucky to have had a very strong mother and a female force to be reckoned with in her. She ensured that a balance was kept at all times, and that we remained centered (as much as possible). We also participated in a cross section of extramural activities, therefore not falling into a so-called pre-set mould or stereotype. Luckily some of the stereotypical or aggressive traits you refer to I don’t relate to (though am not naïve that they don’t exist), as was exposed to all of it and then some. I think I have been able to impart a couple of key values namely: respect, honesty & integrity in all our dealings and actions. Be true to yourself at all times stand your ground, regardless how unpopular that may be. Do everything you do from the heart and with passion, and know that you are good enough (ALWAYS). Something I think all parents (male or female) should instill at all times in raising children.


“Like a spinning top or Yo-yo, my healthy living/fitness journey spins fast and sometimes hits a speed hump and falters or the Yo-yo’s string snaps. Such is life.”


NM: Health and fitness has become and important part of your social media life, how embedded is it in your ‘real life’ and what brought on the shift?
ST: You are really making me laugh. So, yes it’s a journey that is strongly embedded in my “real life”, however, like a spinning top or a yo-yo, my healthy living/fitness journey spins fast and sometimes hits a speed hump and falters or the Yo-yo’s string snaps. Such is life. I always say “Damn I should not have quit!” then pick myself up again and get back into it. It’s a struggle and part of my real life, and a struggle I wish to conquer one day…SOON!
NM: What has growing your beard taught you about life and/or society?
ST: Hahaha… it’s been interesting to say the least, especially at some of the unsolicited attention from a lot of weird and sometimes wonderful people. The one thing it has re-confirmed for me is how shallow or superficial society really is or can be, and that people always read you based on an external package. Sadly people don’t bother to actually get to know you, or even care to know you.
NM: What do you use on your beard? In fact, what is your entire grooming routine – at its most complex – entail?
ST: Actually I don’t think I have a hectic routine per se. I am lucky to have so-called good genes when it comes to my skin and have never had skin issues and have naturally very soft hair. In terms of grooming I believe that its important one looks after what God gave you, so I do ensure that I visit a spa at least once a month, for the basics (pedicure/ manicure/ facial) and use the Nimue Skin Technology product range & regularly exfoliate. I use various L’Oreal Men Expert products daily. I always have my DCT lip balm- on hand. In terms of my beard I recently discovered an awesome local product, that I hear was on Shark Tank SA called – BEARD BROS. It includes beard soap, a bead oil and balm, with a unique masculine “dragon dust fragrance”. I must say, it really makes ones beard soft/very luxe and gentle/soft to the touch – well I have been told (wink).
NM: We see you have taken a liking to Reggi Xaba’s Ifele brand, what is the appeal and what other KXN based menswear and/or accessories designers should we be looking out for and why?
ST: I love supporting local creativity, in fact African brands as a whole, as long as its ethical fashion and most importantly, well made and has a point of difference. That was the main appeal to iFele sandals – especially as I believe that the product ticks all the above. So in saying that I am a big fan of ABRANTIE the GENTLEMAN (Ghanaian brand), Tempracha (Sanele Cele) – love his street/ denim collection, Mxolisi Mkhize from House of St Luke’s, as he is serious about the business of fashion and developing a credible menswear brand. I feel that we need to focus a lot on redeveloping tailoring and bespoke menswear locally. There is a huge market potential out there. As a creative and designer by training, I tend to direct what I want made by the various designers I work with or that have dressed me.
NM: You were in public, shall we say disagreements, with a prominent South African designer on at least two occasions arising from the said designer’s penchant for borrowing a little too much from other designers. Was that matter ever resolved, and why were you so passionate about it?
ST: The matter was never resolved so to speak, as he was not big enough to admit the obvious. In fact there is nothing to be resolved, as he must live with his conscience and truths/untruths. I simply made an honest observation, which other industry role players had made and known about for many years, but just never had the guts to call him out. Subsequently, others started also crying foul, but I was then labeled the fire starter or that I had bad blood with said designer. In fact, I don’t have any ill-feeling towards him, I continue to wish him all the best and that he grows in the creation of ethical, original work. I was passionate about it as I am in almost everything I engage in / with. In this instance, as I am very involved in the development of young designers, and African creative and original thought is fundamental in that… so when this issue had been going on for ages I felt that one cannot allow such to continue – as these so-called “heavy weights” in the design/creative world are role models and should inspire the youth.  If this is what they do – what does that say to future creative?  That plagiarism is ok? Or that one can get away with below par output?  NO. As someone that is extremely patriotic, I also could not stand for Brand SA or creativity that stems from SA/Africa to be undermined in this way as I felt that we would then be seen as non-original or a copycat society etc, when there is really brilliant creative / original and ethical design coming from the continent.
NM: What role does race, gender and sexuality play in one’s success in your industry?
ST: I would like to believe/ say none to very little role, if ones creativity, passion and original thought is all one was judged on, sadly that is not true. As in certain sectors, race is still an issue, as many of our own people deem concepts or creativity that stems from whites as superior. In terms of gender or sexuality, this plays a lesser role, but due to the often-frivolous perception of the industry, it does come into play. I have thought that having a female partner may help or entice certain clients into working us.

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