This is probably the longest interview I have done so far, I think. I could re-edit it, but I feel it has all the relevant aspects. If you are more interested in modelling, Letoya aka Toy toy has that all here, if you want insight about the Kenya Fashion industry, If you have been trying to know the who’s who in the Kenya fashion industry trust Letoya Johnstone to name drop like nobody’s business.
He kept dropping all these names for a minute I felt blank. Finally if you have just been wondering who Letoya Johnstone is, his personal life and what he represents, again you have it all here. Nothing spared.
He is called the realest Letoya Johnstone for a reason, because he doesn’t mince his words; He calls it as he sees it. What you see is what you get.
From what the Kenya government can do for the fashion industry, advice for the models and other key industry players to the major issues affecting the fashion industry that no one is willing to talk about.
Ooh I have to mention, I was at Letoya’s training session with the models a week ago and all I can say is if you are an upcoming model, or even one already and looking to polish up, join Catwalk with Letoya Johnstone. That is free advice that you will thank me for.
Get your cup of tea or latte. This is my interview with Letoya Johnstone.
Letoya is a man of many titles, take it away
My name is Letoya Johnstone and am cat walk coach for high fashion, I have worked with Kenya Fashion Awards, I have done a voluntary back stage management for FAFA some years back, I have worked with international designers like DIVAlicious Fashion Show, I have also worked with multi award winning designer Kemunto Cutler who is also the Managing Director of Aberdeen Fashion Week.
Right now I am working side by side with Nigeria African Fashion and Design week which will be held in Lagos.
Aside from all these I have worked with so many people some of them for just like maybe few days and I left because either because of some disagreements, but the longest is Kenya Fashion awards which I have worked with for two years.
I have been in the fashion industry; I have participated like in so many things. I have modelled for the likes of Nato Design house, Mohamed Bana and others I can’t even mention them all.
I also work in the hospital as a HIV/AIDS counsellor, for the youth and also adults, providing psychology counseling, I also work with children. At MSF I used to work with children and I was the best, as wells as the best peer educator so that is what inspired me to study counselling psychology.
In both my hospital career and fashion industry I have like 10 years experience that is if I add my voluntary work.
So when and how did you begin your journey into fashion?
I started really young, when I was 14 I did a shoot in South Africa called loving the world. After that I came to Kenya and embarked on my journey in modelling, that is when I did fashion High Tea, after that I did Mrembo Fashion which unfortunately is no longer happening,
You are also a stylist, yea?
Yes I do style for fashion editorial column for Parents Magazine, I also pick/ scout for models for the Nairobian Newspaper as well as directing photoshoots for the same for the fashion editorial spread. I am also working with Connie Aluoch style management. We all know Connie Aluoch she is the daughter of first African woman to become an ICC judge and that is Justice Aluoch.
Connie Aluoch is the only stylist with masters when it comes to styling in both East and Central Africa.
What part of your fashion job do you love and enjoy the most?
What I can I say is I love every aspect of my job, because this is my passion. I love styling. So how did styiling come about, I was called for an interview, I mentioned a few things I could do, and they were like “yea you could really do some styling for us” and that is how I landed the job. So I love styling, I love training and coaching models. Training is all about cat walking, coaching entails how you represent yourself at both clients and other people, what do you wear, coz if you want to be something you need to dress it.
If for instance you are working in the bank you can’t go to work in shorts, so you need to represent yourself in a way that is selling and people can tell that this is who you are. So it entails a lot. I love coaching models so that they can become the best of the best and work towards achieving their goals and making sure their dreams are reached.
So what do you think about the Kenya Fashion industry?
Kenya Fashion industry I can say is really growing fast, although there are a lot of Negative and nasty things happening. People hate each other people, people lie to each other, people do things behind each others back. But sometimes that is just how the game works. That at the end of the day it is all about who wants to be on top and how you are going to be on top you don’t need to tell people. Let them learn when they need to.
However it goes to an extreme and it doesn’t make Kenya grow. There are some people who tend to think that the fashion industry is theirs and they developed it and whatever they want to do they can do. They can actually destroy and block sponsors from coming to your show, stop using your models because they don’t want to be associated with you.
At the end of the day when they are stuck they come running to you so it’s really crazy! I just wish that we have a Kenya whereby designers are actually vetted, picked and the ones that are good enough, be placed to start Kenya fashion Week whereby it’s a whole week of fashion. Or have an incredible Kenya Mercedes Benz and international people can come over and see what Kenya has to offer.
I love what Lupita Nyongo is doing, she is bringing Vogue to Kenya and shooting here. But how do we support her? We keep complaining she needs to support Kenya, but this is the same person who after winning the Oscars came back to help rescue wild animals and now she has brought Vogue.
However I still criticize it a bit. Why couldn’t she talk to these people to work with some of the most incredible designers that we have here? So that she shoots in Kenyan design.
This makes me ask, if you really want to support Kenya, although maybe she doesn’t have that power so am not going to pin this on Lupita, but on Vogue.
Why do Vogue, and the way they are a good at sourcing, not check Kenyan designers or Google, try to check whom you can use, come here and shoot Lupita in our Kenyan design put it out there so that other people can see Kenya is not a place where hyenas live, but talented human beings, top designers that can really kick a** and at the same time are really focused.
We have the best jewellery designers like Adele Dejak, we have Niku Singh, accessorize, Kazuri, we have so many people. Designers we have Nato Design house, Jamil Walji, Galina Tatarinova, Ann Mcreath of Kiko Romeo, Yvonne Odhiambo of afrostreet, Ogake Omocha just to mention but a few.
The likes of Pat Lulu Mbela, and so many. Jamil makes sick clothes; Nato design House broke the record. Come over and vet and then get a piece from that person, and the other, So that at the end of the day you are shooting something in Kenya, by Kenyan but for vogue.
But this thing of Valentino coming to shoot in Kenya with Valentino clothes! why can’t Valentino and the team work in conjunction with our Kenyan designers for the shoots? That would be incredible.
Vogue Japan comes to shoot and all we see are gazelles, they are attracted to Kenya but we don’t benefit from it. Kenya fashion industry needs to start making noise and talk to the government so that designers working hard can make money.
When designers are making money, I as a catwalk coach, am going to benefit. Why is Kenyan fashion industry not bothered to talk about this?
So Kenya fashion industry has its pros and cons but I love the fact that it is growing and it pains me when the world cannot see it. We have super models like Ajuma Nasenyana, Malaika Firth, Doris Hammond Kwaka, Nicole Atieno…
You have already mentioned quiet a bit, so give me three things you would like to see change in the Kenyan fashion industry.
The government should talk to the likes of Vogue when they are coming to shoot here they must work with a Kenyan designers and use our models. Kenya is not just known for running. The fashion industry needs to be fed the right milk so that it can grow fat like others.
The government especially the tourism sector needs to come in. They are busy looking for votes but not supporting the fashion industry especially the youths. Speaking of the youth some of the people in the fashion industry are so old. These people are super old, you turn around and check from the TV to what have you. So when will the youths ever get these opportunities.
Am not against old people in the fashion industry but mix it up. So that we have a university person, have Letoya and a mature person.
Another thing if there is something like Fashion watch which is good, but can we also have young people brought in to talk about fashion so that it is really balanced?
Kenya Fashion Week should be the responsibility of the tourism sector, and ensure models are well paid. Bring back our supermodels to do shows so that Kenya can be unified. Everyone in government just wants votes but don’t do much.
That is why am thinking of even not voting, coz am like hallo, when did a politician do something for me? What opportunities have they created in the fashion industry?
UN is the one giving out money and we have the government. Apart from FAFA or Kenya Fashion Awards, when will we have an incredible show?
The government can set aside some money, organize a week of fashion invite the likes of Franca Sozzani, André Leon Talley,the likes of J. Alexander and other people to come and assist us plus see the potential to market us. Why are we marketing tourism and forgetting the fashion industry?
Something else, sexuality of other people, pygmies, albinos to homosexuals and things like that really wear out in the fashion industry. Let us all work together irrespective of all these. Coz at the end of the day these are not choices, nobody chose it for him/herself.
Everyone should work hand in hand to support each other. Nobody created this fashion industry. And even if you did, this is something that the government is dealing with.
Things need to change, and am not begging, am not even requesting, the day you will come for my vote, I will ask you what you have done for me. Coz none of you is talking about the fashion industry. That is where my bread comes from. I will ask you questions.
Only people at the top are benefiting, that is why youths are stealing, young boys sleeping with older women and young girls going for sponsors. Give them jobs, they are broke! It’s like telling a homosexual they are going to burn in hell.
Speaking of homosexuality, you have come out as gay, yea? Are there situations where people have refused to work with due to your sexual orientation?
Actually, just two days ago a fashion show that was to take place in Villa Rosa which is not even going to take place anymore, this lady went to a client and said she did not want to work with me because I am homosexual. Am like, were you going to work with my homosexuality or you wanted the best of the best for your show to run?
I have come to realize that my homosexuality seems to stand in the way of my success even more than my death. Why should somebody use something like that, that is so lame!
Next time they will say they can’t work with someone because they have a disability, or don’t come from Uhuru Kenyatta’s family. Swity at the end of the day you need everybody in the fashion industry. Maybe in Kenya am the only homosexual. But am not even gay I am a transgender. I am just a woman born in a man’s body. This is who I am. I don’t want to change, I don’t eat people.
Saying you can’t work with me because I will make the men uncomfortable, it’s like I have a superpower to make men and sponsors run to me. So my sexuality has been an issue for the longest time. I am tired! It is the lamest and stupid thing somebody has used. Be respectful, if you don’t want to work with me, it’s ok, I don’t fear rejection. In the fashion industry some will work with me some will not. But talking to a client about my sexuality, and saying am gay when am Trans you don’t even know what you are talking about.
Hallo, woman! Come and ask me. When things are not working and designers are pulling out, you want me to feel sorry for you and sing kumbaya my Lord, no swity I will smile and I will sip my lemonade on a sunny day, so let’ keep on going honey may God bless you!
So would you say the modelling industry not just in Kenya but worldwide are slowly embracing homosexuals and Trans and being more receptive to them?
No, in Kenya no transgender has walked the runway apart from Letoya Johnstone. I have walked the major fashion shows like Kenya fashion Awards, that is who I am. I have shot in a gown by Galina, although it never appeared on the paper.
But nobody can pay me to shoot in their designs. Africa does not embrace homosexuality and they also hit me with the Bible. I once saw a lady ask on facebook why God allowed her to be raped at just 10 years old. And as a victim of rape, I was horrified. Then the pastor said she was raped because she was a sinner. She was born a sinner. He even quoted the verse. This was posted by Damaris Muga the award winning blogger Toi Market.
People started hating, but I was like the pastor is damn right! When the bible shuns homosexuals and they say how they are not going to see the kingdom of God, why do heterosexuals feel bad when a child is raped? They are all products of sin. Adam and Eve sinned and the whole lineage was cursed. It’s like when a black person is angry they say black people are always angry and when it is a white person they say it’s a condition they should go for therapy and things like that.
So I really liked that discussion. I would not want something like that to happen to anybody, coz it happened to me I was once raped to the point I almost died at my home place.
Sorry about that terrible ordeal. Were you raped by a woman and how old were you?
I was raped by few men. Not one, not three, and I was left by the road in drainage. I was around 16/17. My aunt found me when I was close to committing suicide I wanted to throw myself down from a window. That is what landed me into counselling and psychology.
Anyway at the end of the day, don’t judge us. I can work it! Even better. So at the end of the day you want your clothes to be sold so Halla!
Staying on the topic of Trans. would you consider fully transitioning maybe in the future? Is that something you would consider?
Everybody has their own decision to make, personally I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe the Lord created me the way I am for a reason. The furthest I can do is plait my hair, change my dressing code but I can never chop anything from my body or take hormones to become a woman. I support the people doing it, I have always wanted to be a woman, that’s just how I was raised in Christianity in that our ways are not his ways and he doesn’t make mistakes.
However that is my belief, others doing just want to be real and be themselves. But personally I wouldn’t. I want to die with all my things intact.
Now, tell us about your family. Does Letoya have siblings? How comes we have not seen a picture with any of them?
I don’t post them on social media, because my family is one of the powerful ones in the community back home. Secondly, I don’t think we are that close to an extent we would take selfies. None of my brothers or sisters have ever suggested we take a photo.
I don’t even have photos when I was young. The rest of the family have, but I don’t. Maybe they remained in the US, maybe in Homobay and I never saw them. Really I can’t explain. I only have photos as an adult. Nobody wanted me in their photos, or to be associated with me. They felt like I was an outcast, I was ruining the family name, because of my sexual orientation rumours, Rumours that I was in cult, and those kind of things. Up to date nobody in my family can even take a photo with me (HAHA)
I don’t even think they know how I look like. Probably they see me on social media. But I know they love me, yea maybe.. Maybe they love me but just have a different way of showing it. I am not talking ill of my life, I can say my mama loves me, my brothers, I know there is a sister of mine who loves me but it has never reached a situation where I am allowed to take pictures with them. I can be around them in their houses or at home when we meet but they don’t feel comfortable. When they would go out I used to be told “see you when I get back”
At one point my sister kicked me out of her house in Nairobi. I had to drop from college where I was studying community development and social work. She didn’t even give me transport to get me back home. I called home and begged for fare, it was sent and I went back home.
Later on I worked hard as a housemaid, and some of my friends at MSF contributed and I went and did counselling and psychology and HIV/AIDS.
So family wise there is nothing much to say. I could be beaten on the road and nobody bothered. I was always all by myself.
I can’t say much about them but Am so happy like this is the first time someone has ever asked me about photos with my family and whatever.
It is amazing that you have gone through all these stuff; you seem like a very strong person. No one can tell
I know swity I have to. If I don’t who will be for me? All I have is just me, myself and I. All I know is that one day somebody somewhere is going to kill me and I am psychologically prepared so.. It is just the question of who is this person who is going to kill me. And where is it going to be? Kibera where I live? Homabay? Kindu Bay? I really don’t know. But if I survive every new day is a beginning for me.
Why do you think someone is going to kill you?
Because I have seen how people treat me, how they block me. Whenever am working with them they tell me how to act and behave, they think am an alien. Everybody I have worked with tells me not to behave like homosexual/trans, or not to talk. It is negative energy everywhere.
I have respect for everyone around me. Although sometimes I come out tough, people look at it as rudeness but am not rude. Just protecting what is right. I won’t let someone walk over me. But I do compromise because I want money. The cheque controls your life.
My life is really complicated I got tired of crying, I just look, get hurt and move on. I don’t have friends completely. There are people who later came to understand me like Zahra Hassan working with women fighting AIDS in Kenya she is somebody whom I can rely on, she is incredible and everywhere I would like her to be mentioned. I also have my psychologist Sandra Nyawira Githaiga with MSF, another psychologist my former boss Grace Kamidigo, they took me in during tough times. But these are not even my friends I consider them family. Aulga Nato stood by me through thick and thin. Nancy Sarah, Catherine Auma obura, these people are my family.
Do you have a mentor?
I don’t think I have someone I go to. I deal with my problems on my own. When I am angry people say I am ranting. Oh Letoya you shouldn’t post that, you are now a powerful person in the fashion industry, but they don’t know what is going on in my life. Let me write my story so people can see.
My mentor is God. I have me myself and I. nobody inspires me. I inspire myself. I don’t look up to anybody. When someone says I look like J Alexander am like no I look like Letoya. I don’t even have a mirror in my house. Growing up I was told I was ugly. I have not even watched Kenyan TV from 2007.
Why that long, any reason?
Because I was raped while I was from watching TV during the post election violence, so I just lost interest in politics. I don’t want to hear those are Luos, they are Kikuyus and so on. I want to work with everyone, those Luo people kicked my a** and raped me, those Kikuyu people don’t want to work with me, at the end of the day it is about individuals. My tribe is love. That is why all my posts end with Xo Xo Toy Toy baby kill it with love punglu.com
Now that you mentioned Ranting, you occasionally blast people on social media. Why do you do that?
I am asking people not to do what am doing, but at the same time it is right. There is no need for secrets then suffer. I give a photographer a job and instead of paying me they start talking ill, talking to me like am their child. My parents died. Hallo! I just met you here you don’t know my struggle. You want to run away with my money I post your name on social media so that people can see and avoid you.
There is also a designer I worked for, who wanted to run away with my money. Who runs away with my KSH 45,000? telling me you flew to New York. I have nobody to fight for me. The people I try to talk to tell me the industry is like that. The only thing I want to know is my cheque bouncing in my bank account like my lashes.
It’s not even blasting them. Conversation gets sour in private so I ask them on social media. People should not be afraid to work with me because am honest. So try and run with my money I post on social media and am not stopping anytime soon.
Going back to modelling, are models in Kenya given enough platforms and opportunities? Do the media only cover models that have already made it and are out there? Like Nicole and the rest.
I have not seen models being called to be interviewed, apart from the beauty queens. I am yet to see that. Like someone calling Letoya to talk about modelling and the issues affecting the industry. People talk about designers, stylists, but there is no welfare for models. Talking of taking them to Paris and New York and you don’t even know the LB of a model, the hip size or bust size.
Like Doris Hammond Kwakwa, a super model. We had to reach out to the media to write about her. What are these people writing about fashion doing?
I was interviewed on the trend but if you go to YouTube my part was removed, why I don’t know. It could be about my sexuality. Anyway models are not fully supported even beauty queens can be dethroned and nobody asks why. But gone are the days when models used to be seen and not heard.
Some still think models are objects to sleep with. Nobody calls us for these interviews. In fashion shows you see models that are not even high fashion, and they don’t know because it is not being talked about.
But Kenya has a number of modelling Agencies. What then are they doing? Is it more of business?
My question is what are models gaining from these agencies? Six pack? Fitness, fame whereby your pictures are on the paper? People don’t want that people want money. Most of the agencies are falling like crazy, because they rip money off models. To them its business. I don’t blame the people opening agencies right left and centre. I blame the models. Do your research!
A ministers or is it ambassadors daughter ran away with models money. The excuse was the company which was to pay failed. How is that their business? You started it you deal with it. There should be rules on how models should be paid and things like that, to ensure legit fashion shows.
That is why models will continue sleeping with your husbands. Because you are busy yapping about your husband yet you are a prominent person in Kenya and not doing anything to help. So if your husband comes am just taking my tax, am not eating your money. So halla!
Like they always say, mess with my boyfriend and I will date your daddy and eat your school fees
You are hilarious, So talk to us about Catwalk with Letoya Johnstone
Ahhh a catwalk with Letoya Johnstone of Toy Toy Management. Actually I finally decided to open my catwalk classes. Most people want trained models who have fixed their walk. So I saw I have the potential to give both the youths and women an opportunity.
Everyone can come irrespective of your age, gender or stage in life. Modelling is something that cuts across. As a good model you will know how to represent yourself when presenting something, as a spoke person or ambassador you need to know what to say and how to compose yourself.
So Toy Toy is showing you how to package your brand, how to present yourself and have back up. For instance if you ask me if I am a good model I will say that I am. Put me on the catwalk I will walk like a woman, put me on the men’s collection I can walk like a man. I can walk like a cat, like a drama queen I can do all that. Look at my photos!
Aside from that my work speaks for itself. People know what I am capable of.
To the models out there, give them three reasons why they should come train with you.
One, my catwalk training is going to show you how to walk designs, jewellery, make up including commercials. You need these things.
Number two; I will help you learn about postures which will help you in photo shoots and even in interviews.
Finally it is going to help you with eloquence and psychological counseling whereby you will know how to deal with issues out there, including rejections which might lead to emotional breakdown. My counseling will help you prepare yourself mentally, emotionally and psychologically.
Now some people would say you are bitchy, if I may so, maybe due to your posts and how you call people out, but you are equally humble. How do you balance that and are you bitchy?
Hahaa! If you call me bitchy or say I have a bitchy side you are really right, I am a bitch! If you say I am humble you are also right. Everybody has a bitchy side, for me am a bitch on why men Love bitches by Sherry Argov. Meaning I am truthful, independent, I want to make the best out of people, I stand up for people who are afraid, so if that is what they call being bitch then I am.
I am also humble because I come from a humble background. From so far to now a face that people can recognize. It is just my being tough that comes out that way. When I am being real people reach out to me. I have helped a lot of people and contributed so much to the industry. So let people focus on both.
When you are in love you are given a rose, but do those who work on the plants and toil get love? Show me negativity and I will show you heaven.
One day I was talking to a certain guy, and I told him he was cute only for him to screenshot it and post it on social media. I went to his wall and said it was true I was asking him for a relationship. He was handsome hallo! He deleted the link and called me crazy. HAHAA
I never told your mama to give you good genes. Just like when Shaffie Weru was hot I told him I used to have a crush on him. He was the hottest in town. And we laughed about it. So who are you? But I have not dated for 8 years.
I am vulnerable, I am kind, I am sweet, and I am warm. Some People just rub me the wrong way.
You have been in the industry the longest, sometimes you write inspiring write ups on your wall, would you consider creating an informative platform say a website?
I am actually considering it. People also ask me to write a book. Others are afraid of putting themselves out there but I have nothing to lose. When I am vulnerable is when am real. I just unveil everything the way it is. What you see is what you get.
So what should we expect from you going forth
I can’t speak for the future, just ask God to grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change and wisdom, And to ask everyone to work with me. Whether I have put your name out there or not, I have no enemies and I would love to work with everyone.
Any advice for upcoming models?
They should know it’s not a ride in the jungle someone will show you the white house but getting in might take you days, months or years. for that reason don’t come looking for fame. In case fame comes, well and good congratulations. And don’t lose your education to chase fame. Even if you’re famous people will still ask about your level of education.
And in Kenya fashion industry does not pay like international. Make friends with the right people even if its Letoya put aside my craziness and come and learn 1,2,3 from me.
So let’s end this, what is the last lie you told?
Lord Jesus have I ever told a lie? I am not perfect, but I have not lied I don’t remember. Am so truthful sometimes someone has to tell me something and remind me not to say it or post it. HAHA! They say I am mouthy but I say I am truthful
Would you rather dye your hair pink or eat raw meat
That is incredible. Dye my hair pink any day any time. Leave raw meat to the dogs and other wild animals. I am human.
If you are told to either wear black or prints for the whole year, which one are you going for? And what is your fashion favourite
I am going for all black honey! I love shorts, because they show off my legs and I have nice legs. And I love when shorts are shorts, that is why they are called shorts.
Finally would you rather have a missing finger or an extra toe
Missing finger, damn no! I’d rather have an extra toe!
Thank you so much Eleksie, God bless you.
Check the gallery above for images. Sharing is supporting!