After winning the ‘International Girl Pageant’ 2023, and being crowned ‘International Junior Miss South Africa’ (IJMSA), Mathabo Matlou will be walking at the prestigious New York Fashion Week (7 – 13 September) for New York-based designer Stacy Hogan of Built by Stacy.
By: Mokgadi G Letsoalo
Main image: Supplied
Mathabo (17) has scored the golden ticket to the elite fashion arena, NYC Fashion Week. This is one of the most renowned fashion events in the world, and boasts attendance by some of the most famous faces in pop culture.
Born in Benoni, Johannesburg, Mathabo always dreamed of becoming a pageant queen. At the tender age of eight she received pageantry training and began practicing her catwalk in Barbie plastic heels.
“My dad saw me posing in front of the camera; my love for those Barbie plastic heels and how I walked around the house, so he told my mom to enroll me into a modelling school,” she tells Blacklight. “My life has revolved around school, family and my modelling career for as long as I can remember.
With the support of her family, the Grade 11 learner is determined to break into the international modeling industry— and she is using the fashion week as an opportunity to promote herself.
“My mother always tells me that, ‘you can never know who is looking.’ So I plan to use the fashion week opportunity to get to know what the world has to offer.”
Many start modelling on humble stages before they reach international stages, like the NYFW, however Mathabo believes with a clear goal and intention, nothing is unattainable.
Blacklight: How do you feel about walking at this year’s New York Fashion Week?
Mathabo Matlou: I entered the International Girl Pageant representing South Africa in the USA, and I won International Junior Miss South Africa and also the competition’s Top Model category. The winner is awarded an opportunity to walk at the New York Fashion Week.
I feel honoured. My friends and family are happy for me. I want it to be the start of something great. I want to be successful locally as well as internationally. I dream about my success story being even bigger than the US, and I will definitely work for it. I am not only going there for the fashion week; I will open myself up for anything that can happen for my career.
BL: What kind of support do you have for your modelling and pageantry career. And what is the importance of having support?
MM: I am blessed with the kind of a family that I have. They can tell when I am down and when to pick me up. For my talent to be noticed by my dad and to tell my mom about it, meant I had support without even asking for it. My parents took into consideration what my interests are. They saw something creative and thought, ‘what can we do with this?’ I actually thank them for seeing it in me—they are my fuel.
BL: How has it been growing up knowing what you want to do and working on it so early in your life?
MM: It just made [pursuing] my interests easier. For example, people ask what I am going to study after school, and I already know [that] I want to be the beauty and brains kind of girl. The modelling space is in motion already, however I also aspire to study law and to be at the defense of others. I was once the girl that was not confident. My family brought it out of me. I have realised that I have the voice to stand for something.
BL: So what do you stand for?
MM: I stand firmly for period poverty. I am privileged to have never run out of sanitary pads, or not be able to afford them. I hear stories of girls and women not being able to go to school or go anywhere because they can’t afford sanitary pads. I can’t relate and I don’t know how it feels, but not knowing is where my intensity comes from. No one wants to feel like they lack and I am coming with a narrative of acknowledging our differences as people.
I also stand for the youth. A lot of us think that because we are young, we can’t have an opinion. I want to help the youth to find their voices. We need to embody the saying, ‘the future is in our hands’.
Youth development is important, and those opportunities are clearly not out there. Yes, I found my passion but not everyone in my age has found themselves. It’s important to have the freedom to show the world that the youth can bring about change.
BL: Besides your family, who has been your role model?
MM: I think for every Black young girl, it’s Zozibini Thunzi. Before her, there were women doing good, however she represents Black girls so well. She looks like an ordinary Black girl. She took the Black girl to a global stage and it is an inspiration to a young Black girl like me, especially in the same industry as her. I also recently met former Miss South Africa Basetsana Khumalo at the Miss South Africa 2023, and she was so kind to me. She is grounded as the powerful woman she is.
BL: What humbles you?
MM: It’s important for me to look at how my parents raised me. Every parent wants the best for their children. They always remind me of where I came from. My coach taught me that there’s always someone seeing your growth and your achievements, you can’t slack, you have to keep on working on yourself. Above everything, nothing beats a smile and kindness; they are priceless and humble to me.
BL: What does success look like for you?
MM: I am scared of not making my parents proud. When your parents support and put an effort into you, all you can do is make them proud. When all is said and done, I want to hang my Miss South Africa and Miss Universe sashes here in my parents’ and childhood house.