Nthabiseng Nhlapo

“I think the biggest misconception about the work that we do is that we only write. And that's not true. We build relationships with people.”

Nthabi’s guidebook to success

Many will find themselves faced with one common question in life: what builds success? Success is not the result of a mystery elixir for the lucky few but is something that is built from within. The face behind W24, Nthabiseng Nhlapo, is a testament to this statement.

But what was her journey to earning the crowning title as editor of one of South Africa’s biggest women's lifestyle brands? Welcomed by a generous and vibrant brunch spread, we caught up with Nhlapo from the sunny embrace of her home garden, to the office, to get a closer look at where she started and recap her incredible career timeline.

“I think it’s very important that as a woman who works in lifestyle and beauty – one becomes a voice for women. So, I’d really like to be remembered as someone who enjoyed lifestyle, who loved beauty, who loved joy - but also someone who cared about women’s issues, gender issues, somebody who cared about diversity, and somebody who gently stood up for what is right.”

Nhlapo has found through her career journey and interactions that the way you phrase things matters just as much as the message you're trying to convey - particularly when trying to reach people from varying walks of life. This is why she strives to phrase things in a 'correct way' that can inspire and move the minds of people that may not have been willing to listen before. Nhlapo hopes to leave a legacy where this approach she takes shines through her work.

“Regardless of which part of the world you’re from, which part of an argument you are from – everybody responds to a little bit of gentleness.”

But, before she penned a name for herself through journalism and became a voice for so many women across South Africa through W24, the prolific writer initially considered entering the world of medicine.  

“I’ve been a journalist for almost 17 years now, since 2005. It was such a journey. I wouldn’t say in the beginning I wanted to get into lifestyle, I actually thought, like most other kids, that I’d be a doctor,” Nhlapo recalls.

She credits this initial career route idea to having interacted with doctors in real life, while at the time she had not yet met a journalist off-screen or outside of bylines. In fact, Nhlapo shared that her first encounter with a journalist in person was when she interviewed for her first journalism job in 2005.

“I thought journalists are these big people, sitting somewhere in big offices that we never ever get to meet. And the first journalists I ever met were when I went for my interviews to become a journalist. That (journalism) was always my second option, I just didn’t think it was possible,” Nhlapo recounts.

While she had contributed stories to publications during her school days, Nhlapo never actively pursued journalism as a career option until just before 2005. In the time leading up to her editorial debut, she took on gigs as a waitress as well as a casino cashier after matric, before studying journalism and launching her journey. She credits the Media24 bursary programme for helping her overcome the hurdle of accessing resources and making her dreams a reality. She's since been able to study until her Master’s degree in journalism all while gaining experience in the industry through these bursaries.

Nhlapo initially found her voice in the general newsroom, but always had an undeniable passion for telling lifestyle stories – particularly the stories and realities of women. As she progressed in her career, she opted for storytelling roles that allowed her to speak on these topics. Her experience in political and news reporting helped her in merging these worlds.

When asked to give her take on beauty standards – Nhlapo says standards for beauty shouldn’t exist in the first place.

“I think the biggest thing that someone in lifestyle can do in terms of changing ‘beauty standards’ is: talk about them less. Because the issue is not the ‘standards’, the issue is the fact that they exist at all.”

For Nhlapo, she doesn't believe that beauty should be something that's defined by a 'stencil' or 'standard' template. She believes that it instead should be rich and diverse to showcase the differences that make us all unique and beautiful.

“The minute you have a stencil for it, and a mould for it, then it’s not beauty. So, I feel like the less we talk about the ‘standard’ and look at beauty in a different way, look at people in a different way – we are moving a bit closer to where we want to be in really knowing that beauty is so much more.”

As for her advice for young journalists looking to brandish their own success in the lifestyle industry, Nhlapo advocates recognising that lifestyle journalism is so much more than the glitz and glam you see on TV or read about in glossy publications. It is something you need to familiarise yourself with and study to grow your skill.

“If you want to enter the industry – you have to study. Formally if you can, informally you also have to study on your own – go online, there are so many resources there,” Nhlapo advises.

Once you hone these key foundation elements to lifestyle journalism, you can play around and get creative with how you choose to produce your lifestyle content.

“Learn about the industry, learn about colour – how to mix colour, how to work with colour the correct way and then you just do it the wrong way for creativity – but you do have to know the core of it. As you grow in the industry you get to realise that it’s not all made up - there is an art, there is a science, behind lifestyle – behind fashion and beauty,” Nhlapo adds. 

Nhlapo is an avid reader in her downtime and finds that it inspires and enlivens her own writing in her role.

If there’s one book she recommends, especially for up-and-coming journalists, it’s this one: The Extraordinary Editor - it is a compilation book of articles and stories written by various editors in South Africa. 

Watch the interview below to hear more about Nhlapo’s journey, her experiences, relationships, and advice on how you can build your own success through passion and hard work too.

Watch the full interview:

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