Dressing up with UKhozi FM fashion anchor and red-carpet regular, Mthokozisi Chiyi
By Samora Chapman
Mthokozisi Chiyi, better known as radio personality and style guru ‘Swenka’, was born to be a fashionista. It just took him a little while to realize his destiny.
“I’m a third generation apparel dealer!” he tells us while sipping on a passion fruit spritzer. Flamboyant and charming, Swenka gesticulates wildly as he delves into his love for all things fly, his eyes smiling through a classic pair of aviator sunglasses.
“My grandmother used to sew, and would source garments from Joburg and sell them in Umlazi, where I was born and raised. My mom followed suit, learning the trade from her mother, so I’m from a very fashion and image conscious family. My grandma’s house was right by the bus stop and I remember how we’d people-watch all day. There’d almost always be someone saying, ‘Did you see what so-and-so was wearing today? Oh, you must keep an eye out for her when she comes home!’”
Although Mthoko was born into a fashion family, his journey took a few detours before he found his way back into fashion, and after achieving good grades in school he found himself studying Environmental Science at what was then the University of Natal.
“I wanted to study fashion but my parents refused. So I had to be smart about things and added media and communication as an extra course, which helped me later on. I’ve never practiced as an environmentalist. My first job was at Telkom!”
In 2005 Mthoko took a course in fashion illustration and design at Linea Fashion Academy, after which he found a job as an assistant stylist at a production company with his mentor Derrick Mhlongo’s, at Decamm Productions, giving Mthoko his first taste of the industry.
“It was a dream come true for me,” explains Swenka talking about his work on fashion shows, shoots and events. “When I attended my first Durban July I was selected as one of the best dressed. And then later I was working there! It’s like, WOW.”
In 2007 Mthoko joined a boutique as a fashion buyer and started travelling the world sourcing fabrics, spotting trends and learning the ins and outs of production. Then in 2009 he was invited to join UKhozi FM’s breakfast show and the personality ‘Swenka’ was born.
“On my first day my producer said, ‘Mthoko, now that we have you on our show what are we gonna call you!?’ The term uSwenka originates from the word swanky, which means someone who has good taste in clothing and immaculate style. So that became my radio name and now people identify me as Swenka.”
Today Swenka is a household name and as a fashion and lifestyle anchor for the radio station he features on a number Ukhozi FM’s prime time shows. When he reports live from red carpet events like the SAMA’s, the Metro’s, the J&B Met and the Durban July, he’s known for the type of outfit he’s brought along for today’s shoot, which can be anything from a classic grey tweed suit from Dickson Taylors to some shweshwe pieces by Amanda Laird Cherry.
Then, Swenka’s fashion services company, Uniqage Trends, specialises in styling, personal shopping, wedding coordination and events, and even after the work he did for DJ Sox’s wedding was recently featured on Top Billing he’s still humble enough to have his heroes.
“I’ve always admired Dion Chang and how he was able to transform from being a fashion guy to being a fashion journalist to being a fashion editor and ultimately the entrepreneur and guru behind Flux Trends. And then of course you cannot talk about fashion locally without mentioning Laduma, the amaXhosa designer who was able to transform the maXhosa print into a global phenomenon, you know?”
So what about the next generation?
“There are a lot of young up and coming fashion bloggers, designers and influencers in Durban. The fashion blogger Prince Thabz is amazing. His aesthetic includes spaces, interiors, food, fashion – he’s doing the whole lifestyle thing, which is really multi-faceted. Another one to look out for is Mxolisi Luke Mkhize whose House of St Luke is becoming a force to be reckoned with!”
As the sun dips behind the ridge and the first signs of evening start to appear, Swenka’s finally able to throw on his winter jacket, a rare occasion in a tropic city.
“The tricky thing about Durban is that you never really get a winter but that works perfectly with some of the trends we are seeing now. Like wearing an extra length t-shirt under a shirt, a bomber jacket on top, a scarf and a beanie to round it off! It works because you can dress up and then peel off the layers as it warms up.”