The Creative

Anelisa Mangcu does what she likes and likes what she does

Words: Dylan Muhlenberg | Photography: Nick Gordon

Perhaps Anelisa Mangcu was always destined to be a creative. But what does the term ‘creative’ mean exactly? Well, that’s something that Anelisa’s still trying to figure out. What she can say is that it’s been quite a ride and she’s enjoying every minute of it.

Even with the odds stacked against her while living in the PE township of New Brighton, Anelisa put on plays, made art, entered beauty competitions and constantly shadowed her hip-hop-headed uncle, to whom she credits the tomboyish side of her personality. Then, her family moved to Cape Town and Anelisa began to thrive in her new creative environment.

“I was always the weird kid,” laughs Anelisa, sitting under the thatched lapa next to her swimming pool, two golden retrievers named Porsche and Mercedes lying at her feet. “I was the black girl who wanted to do art, which in our culture is not encouraged. The norm is working towards being a doctor, engineering, business… But nobody could change my mind.”

The Rustenberg Girls High student took fine art, design, drama and then “bullshitted [her] way into the editorial team and started a photographic society.” Her tunnel vision meant that Vega was the obvious next choice, where she qualified as a copywriter with a BA in Creative Brand Communications. Then fashion fell into her lap.

“I met the Drum fashion editor, Asanda Sizani, who said, ‘Hey, I see you’re a pretty stylish young girl, why don’t you follow me around and see what the fashion world is about?’ When she moved to Elle I went with her. This exposed me to so many of the industry game changers. So that was cool.”

The fashion internship helped Anelisa to refine her own aesthetic and grow more confident in pushing her personal style. Never overthinking things, Anelisa is something of a realist where she needs her clothes to serve two main purposes: keep her covered up and keep her warm.

“The weather changes so much in this city so I try and put something on where I can make it through an entire day without changing. Listen to your mom! Remember your coat! Keep warm! And while I love it when women show skin you’ll never see me wearing something that’s completely exposed. I’m a tomboy, and so maybe I can sometimes look a bit grungy, but for today I thought that I’d use this opportunity to show off my softer, more feminine side.”

The uncle that Anelisa credits with her tomboyish side is just a decade her senior, and the two are still close today. He’s the one who introduced her to things like basketball culture, West Coast rappers, Warren G and Nate Dog, a uniform of oversized jeans and bomber jackets, Coolio dreads and, most importantly, sneakers.

“My love of sneakers started at a young age, but as a female people have preconceived ideas of how you should look and feel. Your style has to be extremely feminine. Then in my teenage years I worked at Street Fever, a sneaker store in Wynberg, and that’s when things took off again.”

It’s interesting to see how all of the different influences Anelisa has encountered along her rich, creative journey have culminated in the woman that she is today. And because of her diverse backstory, Anelisa is now in the fortunate position of being able to be so many different things to so many different brands.

As the only female sneakerhead on the King of Kicks panel, Anelisa has been tasked with judging the colourway and trainer categories and will ultimately decide on which South African sneakerhead wins a trip to New York.

The King of Kicks was something that I was approached with and just had to be a part of. I’m seen as someone who is within the culture, but I still prefer to see myself as a rookie who gets to learn from other sneakerheads. It’s about celebrating a culture that others might take for granted. A lot of kids back in the day couldn’t afford what they wanted, or maybe they had to lay-by for it. But now we’re making it and can buy premium brands.”

Another facet of Anelisa's personality that brands are latching onto, is her newfound love for health and fitness. More specifically, looking good while working out.

“I run a lot, sometimes twice a day, it’s crazy. I run at the gym in the morning and then in the evenings I’ll either play squash or hit the promenade with my running crew.”

Then there’s her photography, which has seen the name Anelisa Mangcu exhibited alongside the likes of Paul Ward and Max Mogale.

“I’d been putting on my own self-funded exhibitions since the age of 17. Organized the spaces, did the catering, the PR, everything. It was a huge learning curve but I’ve done five exhibitions now and obviously people recognized all my hard work because I have been pulled into group exhibitions with artists that I really respect and admire. It’s such a great honour.”

Simply put, if Anelisa is interested in something then brands seem to want to capitalize on it, relying on her influence and personality to sell a specific lifestyle.

“So if I’m interested in running and document it on Snapchat they’re like, ‘Cool, since you’re part of the family why don’t you do this with us?’ I think I’m good at picking up on things. It does get a bit much sometimes, so I just have to be clever with which brands I align with. I can’t spread myself too thin. I can’t be taking everything that comes my way.”

As a lot of things to a lot of people, Anelisa needs to play the game as smartly as possible. The best way to do this is to be herself and her golden rule is simple – only do it if you are feeling it.

“It sounds corny and I know everyone always says this, but it’s true. You have to love it. Also, if you love what you’re doing then you’ll deal with the rejection a lot better. And there’s a lot of that, so you need to learn to be tough. You also have to learn to fail and then go back to the drawing board afterwards and say, ‘What could I have done better? What will I learn from this?’ You can’t think that anyone owes you anything.”

The secret to Anelisa’s success is staying humble without ever being caught up in the hype. She constantly reminds herself that it’s an honour to be doing what she’s doing and that she should never forget that. She sees her role as influencer as a way to shed a little light onto the lives of others. 

“In life people want to love and be loved in return. So what I try to do is connect with people. And I’m interested not only in sharing my opinions, perceptions and values, but hearing yours. Lets communicate. Lets start a dialogue. It’s all about being open to collaboration.”

That said, while she’s open to work with others Anelisa has learned a very valuable lesson, too: “Just Say No.” She pulls a face when pronouncing the word that’s an anathema to bloggers: "exposure." 

“If you’re trying to sustain yourself as an entrepreneur, and invest in your own business, and just want to, like, put gas in your car, then you have to get some form of income.”

"Entrepreneur" is a name that Anelisa calls herself, but "blogger," nah, nor is she comfortable with the word “ambassador,” instead she refers to herself as…

“A lover. An influencer. I’m trying to run away from the term blogger and I’ll tell you why. I have a friend who is an incredible blogger, Aisha Baker from Baked The Blog, who does the job so perfectly. She’s incredible at it. And then there’s Thiti Nteta in Johannesburg who runs a communications company. And she kills it, too. Me? I have this need to go back to being a full-time artist. So right now I’m trying to make a compromise with myself to see if I can still play this role as an influencer yet not feel forced to blog on a regular basis.”

What she’d rather focus on is concept development and coming up with ideas for brands while taking on more of a consulting role. Anelisa feels that she’s well-prepared for this behind-the-scenes approach.

“I have experience on both sides of it. I know what the brand wants and I know what the influencers want.”

Most importantly, Anelisa knows what she wants, and it’s for this very reason that the woman known as The Creative is likely to achieve whatever she sets her sights on, and will obviously look good while doing it.