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Nandi Dlepu – Owning Her Creative Lane

Words by Sanele Mawisa

The creative industry in South Africa is in a renaissance, as the demand for high quality output from consumers and brands continues to rise, creatives are expected to improve their craft and deliver outstanding work on a consistent basis. From art to entertainment to design, everyone’s expectations have raised the standards. We spoke to the enigmatic Nandi Dlepu, a true creative who has built, developed and executed stellar work on countless platforms and projects over her 12 year career. She provides fascinating insights into her career and the creative industry.

What is your view on the state of creative content in SA?

I think its promising. I am genuinely excited and inspired by what peers and even competitors are creating. I also have to ruefully admit that I do live in a kind of bubble and privilege. I realize that this can be naive and dangerous so I do try to expose myself to different scenes and to parallel creative communities. So my opinion is positive but still evolving.

What lessons did you learn about being a black female working in an agency?

I learnt a lot of wonderful and terrible things but specifically as a black woman I found that I had to learn to identify the difference between being empowered and being used solely because I was black and female irrespective of expertise.

There’s nothing worse than being in a room and not understanding why you’re in it and not feeling like you deserve to be there.

What did you envision for your career?

I’ve always envisioned that I’d be a storyteller of some kind. With the evolution of content, the ways in which you can bring good stories to life is insane. Everything is a journey now, with clear beginnings, middle and ends. 

This is from how you treat an event to brand films. I also had always imagined myself at the helm of my own company leading and innovating in this space.

What advice would you give to someone working in the creative industry in SA?

To be the best that they can possibly be and to innovate. Think young creatives get inspired and emulate and not evolve

What are your thoughts on representation in advertising and media?

We still have some way to go. I see a lot more black and locals on screens, in spaces, in print etc. but representation goes far beyond race & gender. We’ve just touched the surface as far as I’m concerned that’s where writers, directors and people in power need to allow for authenticity, innovation and bravery. Most of the representation we encounter are stereotypical, “safe” and problematic.

What made you leave your 9-5 and start your own agency?

I really loved my 9-5. I think it’s important to say that because people are unhappy at work, see an entrepreneur thriving and start taking for granted how fortunate they are. I enjoyed my work most days, had a great title and was well compensated but I have always known that I would start my own company. I gave up not one but two insanely amazing opportunities to pursue this dream of mine because I believe wholeheartedly in what I have to give the world and the opportunities that I can create.

What is the most difficult part of being an entrepreneur?

I wouldn’t say difficult but more challenging is the balancing act. You’re constantly balancing something. Be it opportunity vs cash-flow vs hiring, being a leader vs supplier, being both the teacher and the student.

There’s always something to weigh against another thing.

How did WKND Social come about?

I think a lot of good ideas come from personal need, good timing and great collaborations. 

The personal need in this instance was the fact that I was a young mom (29) to a 2year old and who still wanted to have a good time. I daydreamed often about an adult contemporary groove that combined some of my favorite things; food, fashion and great music and that all ended in time to relieve my sitter. Personal need is not only a great motivator and often it’s not just your need alone. 

The good timing was really that a special kind of energy was brewing in Johannesburg around 2012. The commercial viability of the creative scene had reached what I believe was one of its first tipping points, at least in the context of my life, there was the emergence of day markets when the city was over saturated with clubs as though a good time was an after 10pm activity and lets not forget the urban regeneration efforts that created today’s Braam and Maboneng. So there was an openness for our proposition. A pop-up brunch-cum-day-party that popped up in and around the CBD. 

Then the great collaboration. TWS was created by 6 incredibly creative and smart women who each brought a specific ingredient that when combined really did create something “delicious”. It was well received by our community, brands and the press couldn’t get enough.

What is it about good food, good music and good music that just works?

People enjoy multi-sensory experiences. Everything about the world is about consumer delight and our positive reactions to a combination if not all of our senses. 

Good food looks and tastes good, good music makes you feel good and good company. Good company can start with just satisfying a single sense and compound.

So curated events with considered touch points that consider sense are sure winners for me.

How do you balance work and play?

I don’t. It’s a constant struggle; some weeks I walk away with a “W” others an “L”. What matters is that I reflect back and try do better week by week.

How would you explain your fashion style?

Bottom line is I like to look good and be comfortable. I go from “Oak & Fort” to” Tongoro Studio” to “Golondrina Collective.

Does blogging still have relevance in the wake of Instagram?

I think Instagram is the new blog.

Which South African females inspire you?

Khanyi Dhlomo is a huge inspiration.

What is your dream event that you would love to attend and why?

My dream event doesn’t exist but it is definitely one I hope to create someday. I keep imagining and reimagining what that would look, feel, sound and taste like.

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