From Polokwane to London: How one tweet got this law student a modelling contract in the UK

Tumelo for L'Oreal. Photographed by David Blaq
Tumelo for L'Oreal. Photographed by David Blaq
David Blaq

In the spirit of sisters doing it for themselves, meet Tumelo Ntsewa, a 23-year-old model who, in a world that's standing still has boarded a plane to new heights in her career. The Polokwane-born model, whose dream is to see her face on Times Square, recently signed with a London-based modelling agency.

Tumi, as she's affectionately known, put out her intention to be signed in London in a tweet (see below) and her answer came in a contract from a London-based agency. As soon as she can travel, she'll be jetting off on her new adventure.

Tumi is thrilled for the opportunity to model internationally, getting the call was a dream come true for Tumi, “I could not believe that it was real. I had dreamt of being signed beyond South Africa and when it happened, I just knew that our agency’s hard work was worth it,” she says refering to the local agency she runs with her mother.

Now that she has signed with Zone Models in London, she aims to walk the runaway for Gucci at Paris Fashion Week one day

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Based between Johannesburg and Cape Town, Tumi has a BA Journalism degree and is currently a law student at Wits University. Inspired by one of the most loved modelling shows of our time, America’s Next Top Model, at age ten, Tumi saw herself becoming a model one day.

However, her body image at the time, resulted in some internal-battles. “I was a chubby, short, but a very confident young girl but I had the subconscious belief that I would be laughed at if I shared this dream,” she says.

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Taking the first step to ensure her dreams were heard by the universe, she made a school project where she jotted down her dreams and aspirations in two versions, one for her teacher, and one that remained in her possession.

After some growth and courage, she began applying to several modelling agencies in 2015, and only got a breakthrough in 2017. “It took three years, moving agencies, and free shoots with photographers, with some of our work not being great, to finally getting one foot in the door,” she adds.

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Tumi’s first campaign as a model was with L’Oréal Paris South Africa, and she did a beauty campaign with Revlon.

Tumi has had to face many challenges in the industry she dubs cut-throat. “I have had to learn that sometimes criticism is not personal, that I may want a specific job but won’t get it because my look as a model do not fit the brief. I have had to come to terms with being told ‘no', often,” she says.

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One of the effective ways Tumi combats the challenges she faces is defined in the message of her brand – resilience, “I believe in trying even if the odds seem to be against you,” she says. In a world that is constantly changing, different industries are expected to evolve as well.

For Tumi, when it comes to inclusivity and diversity, she finds nothing more beautiful than representation. “I love that there isn’t a magazine, fashion editorial or campaign out today that does not include someone who is of colour; someone who looks like me. I love that our industry is now more than ever more embracing the idea that not all people are sample size and that we come in variations which genuinely need to be celebrated,” she adds.

In a technology-driven world, there are boundaries still standing between SA models and the international scene, “The biggest boundary is access to information,” she concludes. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Tumi will not be moving to London anytime soon; however, she intends on moving once she has completed her studies.

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