Noni Gasa is an entrepreneur and communications specialist with more than 15 years of experience in the fashion, media and marketing industry. She is also the director of the Design Academy Of Fashion (DAF), one of Africa’s premier design schools, located in Cape Town. She spoke to Go Hustle’s writer Ondela Mlandu to share more about her milestones and career.
Noni’s big break in media
In 2004, Noni Gasa landed her first job as a features writer at Media24 while still a final-year BA Journalism student at the University of Johannesburg. “After graduating, my then-boss, Justine Stafford, offered me a full-time position as Features Editor at Seventeen magazine and that’s where my passion for fashion journalism started,” she says.
A year later, through a chance encounter with Lucilla Booyzen, the founder of SA Fashion Week, Noni got her first big advertising campaign. She went on to land two magazine covers and hosted a TV show on M-Net. “I owe a lot to these two women who were instrumental in shaping my early career,” she says.
The importance of mentorship
Noni says she’s never really had a mentor in the formal sense. “I’ve always kept a trusted group of smart women around me who I’m lucky to call my friends. They inspire me through their actions, simply by being phenomenal mothers and hard-working entrepreneurs. Nkhensani Nkosi, Buli Maliza, Diane Tevoedjre, Papama Mtwisha and my sister Mbali are just five women who I regularly look to for advice,” says Noni.
“To survive in business, you need the ‘3 Ps’ — passion, patience and perseverance. On my worst days, I have to remind myself why I started and that it’s okay not to have it all figured out,” she says.
“Ironically, even in leadership roles, I don’t consider myself a leader. I still see myself as a team player, a doer, a problem-solver, a heavy-lifter and small-stuff-sweater,” she says. On any given day Noni is either building her own business, or someone else’s. “I enjoy being a part of the process and have an appreciation for the granular.”
Is Imposter Syndrome real?
“I’ve actively started unlearning Imposter Syndrome (or, at least, trying to) by becoming less apologetic about my successes,” she admits. Noni goes on to say that Imposter Syndrome is especially amplified in black women within their cultural framework.
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She explains: “The way that humility, subservience and self-denigration are admired as noble traits and tenets of ubuntu. Not wanting to be too exceptional, too smart, too cute or too removed from the collective struggle. Lately I’ve become more embracing of my achievements, assertive and confident to claim the things I’ve worked hard for,” she says.
The definition of career growth
Three in four employees in the local clothing and textile sector are women, so one could argue that it’s a highly equitable industry. Noni says the fashion industry structure is bottom-heavy — most are factory workers or labour-intensive roles, not positions of leadership or ownership. “For me, career growth is defined by equity, not equality. I’m excited to see more women being appointed to head up big retailers, open their own businesses or launch their fashion brands. This is growth,” she says.
An ode to your 21-year-old self?
“Go ahead. Ask the so-called ‘dumb’ questions. How else will you learn?”
Noni’s passion and purpose
Noni is passionate about the creative economy and the next generation of African storytellers, designers, artists, thought-leaders and change-makers who are redefining our nuanced expression and our unique identity. “2019 was a major turning point for African design and I love that, through Design Academy Of Fashion’s new fellowship with GUCCI, we get to be a part of this significant moment in history,” she says.