Zozibini Tunzi styled by Thobeka Mbane and assisted by Julienne M’Poko during a Hayani Creative shoot in 2021

Thobeka Mbane is the stylist behind the iconic Elsa Majimbo x Maison Valentino collaboration that wowed the fashion scene in 2021. It was a campaign that had everyone talking.

Apart from the social media darling, Elsa, getting her first “big bag” with a luxury brand, it was a big career moment for those behind the scenes too.

Thobeka still beams with pride when she thinks of this particular shoot that was an omen, validating that she was on the right path.

“The Valentino campaign is still one of the proudest achievements of my career,” she tells W24.

Her most recent proud career moment has been styling Zozibini Tunzi, a woman she has always wanted to work with. “I hope more black women and women living with disabilities fill in these spaces and take up space, as Zozi said, and I hope those watching feel represented enough to not doubt themselves,” she adds.

As a black woman in the creative space and living with a disability, she admits that she comes across challenges.

“I was diagnosed with spinal TB when I was about five-years-old, leading to scoliosis,” Thobeka explains.

Collaboration with her creative friends to get her work out there really helped.

“We started shooting on weekends to strengthen and polish our skills plus revamp portfolios,” she tells us.

In our interaction, she is very particular about mentioning the power of collaboration because when on set, everything comes together because of a collaborative effort from creatives.

Thobeka finally left a corporate job to pursue her innate love for the arts that she discovered while growing up in Umtata, Eastern Cape. The decision to do so is paying off as that has opened doors to opportunities.

She attended a Catholic school for children with special needs, and the art class was her favourite place to be. “I still have a long way to go,” Thobeka says.

Against all odds, she is determined to immerse herself as a creative director, stylist and visual artist fully.

“I have a disability, so a lot of jobs are physically demanding, and it’s a bit hard to keep up physically at times. Also, one of the other biggest challenges in the industry is that I picked up very early in the industry that black women aren’t expected to have a voice much. You can either have your voice or a career and never both, so it’s challenging because I’m trying to have both, and there is the challenge of producing work that makes sense to you [as a creative].

“I think once you start getting commissioned as an artist, it’s very hard to get time to do your own stuff because you’re always getting booked and travelling; that you never get time to produce your own work, and this is usually something we do with collaborations,” Thobeka explains.

She draws a lot of inspiration from Caster Semenya and other people who are proud to live in their truth.

“Most of my work is inspired by black women and queer bodies because I love boldness and colour, which I both represent. And for black women, I honestly want better for us in terms of comfortability, inclusivity, support and representation,” she says.