RATO K: JAN/FEB COVER
Words by Naledi Sibisi
Photography by 72 Photography
Styling by Caron Williams
For Rato, recognition for her skills as well as her growing success was especially important as she navigated her way through the digital space. “Entering the digital space was a no brainer, as a generation, that’s where we’ve all fast tracked to. What did require a lot of working smart, persistence and discipline was building a recognised and successful digital-based career, and that came with recognizing the response to my content by my audience and making a decision to ‘corporatize’ it – or rather to identify what they mostly enjoyed, as well as extensive research about this new-age marketing tool and how to make my work its currency for the long term”. At just twenty-three years of age, Rato has already accomplished many notable moments along her journey. “Being an award nominated blogger and hosting my first HellenRose Women & Wealth event successfully – these two are right up there as far as career highlights go”.
That kind of success was not easy to come by over the years. While Rato’s career continues to peak, she acknowledges some of the challenges she had to face along the way as well as some of the mentalities she had to adopt. “I am a very dynamic woman and I sometimes grow out of certain things, or love opposing things at the same time. A lot of the time, influencers are put under great scrutiny and their authenticity is questioned when they, for instance, do campaigns for brands that are deemed competitors. I had battled so much to decide what kind of fashion and lifestyle blogger I wanted to be – I love luxe, but I thrift too. I like Nike, but I like Adidas too. I want to be myself and like, eat and wear everything, unless I’m bound by an ambassadorship contract. We have a responsibility as influencers as well to communicate those things to our audiences”. It is this sort of conviction and certainty that I have come to appreciate the more I speak to her. While accepting some of the challenges she faces, she is equally sure about what her reality looks like at all times and she capitalizes on that aspect. “I am painting a picture of how far I’d like to go with this career. It is still quite conservative and still growing in South Africa as opposed to abroad, so I had to figure out where I’m going with this, if it’s a value add or a stepping stone to the next thing I want to pursue”.
Before identifying as a blogger and digital entrepreneur, Rato has mentioned how fashion was what she was passionate about and as such, she found a way to not only incorporate that into her career but also make it an extremely important part of her aesthetic. On how she would describe her style and influences she states that if Darja Barannik and Olivia Culpo had a fashion child, she would be her style influence. “I’m not necessarily stuck on one way of dressing. Like I said I’m a very dynamic woman and I like a bit of everything”. While she currently has quite an impressive closet already, there are a few items she is looking to add to her collection. Her current wish list includes: A Himalayan Croc Birkin handbag, the Camilleri dyed red fur coat Miranda (Meryl Streep) wore on The Devil Wears Prada and the laminated suede goatskin and grosgrain Chanel sling back pumps in gold and black.
She tells me that her days are never really the same so it is difficult to describe what a typical day looks like for her. She does however, begin and end each day with a prayer and that is unchanging. “I start off my day with prayer and reading my bible. I’ll then go on my laptop to check my emails and respond to those I haven’t responded to, then make a cappuccino to psych my body up for the day. I like to source content in the morning so I would do that before leaving the house or doing my school work. If thereafter I’m not on set or shooting my own content or taking a midday or afternoon meeting, I’m doing a school assignment or studying, or I’m at fashion school (I’m doing two qualifications). I would then come back home and write; I love writing. I’ll catch The River and then end my day off in prayer and the word and go to bed. Sometimes it’s all of the above in one day and if it’s none of the above. I’ll probably be stuffing my face and watching movies in bed all day”.
On the business aspect and choosing which brands to work with, she emphasizes her core values and beliefs; namely the importance she places on prioritizing and advancing women. “As with any business, I have established pillars for myself that I lean on to decide whether or not to work with a brand. I am a girls-girl, so I always consider that. I ask myself if this is a brand that I’ll talk to my girlfriends about or refer my girlfriends to. I want to know if I have, or want to establish a history with this brand. I am a content creator, so I question whether I’ll have creative freedom on that campaign. Finally, I always ask myself whether it feels right”. On how she manages to remain authentic and relatable given her large and increasingly growing following, she mentions that the content she creates is always derived from the person that she is and what she enjoys doing. As a result, she has rarely struggled to find a balance between the two. “The two are always married. I have, for example, made the big mistake of signing a contract before asking the important questions which left me doing a campaign that was creatively stunted, and not performing at my best because the direction was not aligned to me at all”.
We dive into a conversation about HellenRose. The website that celebrates and publishes content centred around female strength and beauty was founded by Rato a few years ago. “I wanted to create a platform that urged engagements amongst and between women; engagements about everything. I love being a woman, and I love celebrating women. This is all I know because of the kind of family I was raised in. It was a family of just women who leaned on one another, celebrated one another and also disagreed; but found one another again. The intention behind the name was really to make me, the founder, always remember why I started and to be ever fruitful with HellenRose so that it can do the same for the women involved in it or the women who engage with and follow it”. She goes on to explain that Helen is her mother’s name and Rose is he grandmother’s name. “These women have planted good seeds into our lives so that we can reap them. I want HellenRose to do that for women through content, business integration, corporate social responsibility and philanthropy”. Through this, Rato has established herself as a force to be reckoned with, not only as one of the leaders in the industry, but as a businesswoman and an inspiration to young women around the country. When it comes to some of the challenges she faced entering an entrepreneurial space so young, she says external doubt was a huge factor but she countered that with self-belief. “Things like access to funding; I countered that by accessing my own pocket and maximizing the little that I have. It was the same with starting all over again. I countered that by seeing a new start as a magnet for something better”.
To elaborate on the importance of making women the focal point of her business as well as some of the lessons she has learned from assuming a role of leadership as a young woman, she emphasizes that women helped to raise her to her level. “Women tend to receive the short end of the stick. I didn’t want to be a part of that – robbing, cheating and overlooking women. I want to be a part of the narrative where women take their power back, in whatever way fits them. Some lessons I’ve learnt are that true leaders serve. You have to be able to put the interests of others above your own. Leaders aren’t afraid of emotions because they are confident in themselves and they are comfortable delving into their emotions so they can empathize with those who work with and for them. Leadership is hard to measure, it’s a tool that serves as a guide towards intended goal or outcome, but people have different definitions for it. It’s neither good nor bad, or virtuous nor evil. We’ve seen some terrible and self-serving leaders, and we’ve seen some noble and intentional leaders, but all were leaders nonetheless”.
We get candid about her greatest fear and what she is most looking forward to personally and professionally in the coming year. She expresses that loss has been a challenge for her. “I hate losing people. It does a whole lot of breaking to me and I feel it not only emotionally but physically too. I need to care for you a great deal, see tremendous value in our relationship/friendship, and love you immensely to consider you walking out of my life as a loss (I haven’t lost anyone to death yet, so we’ll see how that goes). I say this because some people walk out of your life and it’s a win”. On that note, she tells me that she is working on being whole in herself and in God. “I’m actually on the journey already. I’m looking forward to being a better and more intentional friend. I’m looking forward to completing fashion school and doing something great with that and I’m also looking forward to growing as a blogger in my content and in opportunities. I’m looking forward to reinforcing the HellenRose pillars and adding one or two more. Watch the space though!”