David Tlale has achieved what very few local designers have managed. He’s built an original and lasting brand, and is now helping up-and-coming designers eager to enter the fashion business do the same.
“There’s already enough of us. There’s already enough of Malcolm Klûk, and the best thing to do is to make sure that these [young] designers become original designers that can sustain the business of fashion, that can sustain their names and also understand how hard it is to build a brand,” he said in an interview earlier this year with radio station 94.7 Highveld Stereo.
“We have to expose them not only to the industry, but also to how to build a brand, how to brand themselves, and not land in spaces of copying other people’s work. It’s not just fabulous, taking a bow at the end of the show.”
Tlale is one of the most recognisable faces in the South African fashion industry; and in an industry where small independent manufacturers and designers often do not survive because of competition from international fashion brands and large retailers, Tlale has achieved longevity.
Over the past 14 years he has grown his couture fashion brand into one of the most successful design studios in the country, with studios in both Cape Town and Johannesburg. He has also done brand collaborations with major retailers like Edgars, LEGIT and underwear brand Jockey.
What Tlale is perhaps most celebrated for is exposing South African designs to a global audience. Among his major achievements is being the first local designer to showcase solo at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week New York in September 2012. He has also showcased at some of the world’s biggest fashion capitals including Paris and Venice.
In November 2014, Tlale was awarded Designer of The Year in the African Diaspora in New York City, presented by Applause Magazine based in Manhattan. He was also awarded Fashion Designer of the Year at the Africa Fashion Awards in Johannesburg, in 2009.
Tlale’s brand influence extends beyond his designs. He is a brand ambassador for CÎROC and Courvoisier (along with Bonang Matheba and T-bo Touch). He was also featured as one of Mercedes-AMG’s ‘Friends of the Brand’ alongside musician J’Something of Mi Casa, TV personality Jeannie D and environmentalist Kevin Richardson.
The Foundation Behind The Fashion
In the past three years, Tlale has been mentoring young up-and-coming entrepreneurs through his mentorship programme, “The Intern by David Tlale“.
The programme is now on TV screens as a reality TV show, on SABC 3. It sees 12 hopeful fashion designers battle it out to be his assistant designer. The contestants over 13 weeks compete against each other in various challenges with mentorship and guidance from Tlale. Each contestant, upon elimination, gets an opportunity to join David Tlale’s in-house internship programme for 6 months. The ultimate winner of the TV show will become Tlale’s assistant designer for a year and wins a studio to the value of R250 000.
What these young designers are likely to learn from Tlale, aside from crafting a unique brand, is the importance of having practical business skills, especially if they are to build sustainable businesses.
Tlale started his business from his home, and has admitted to making mistakes, as a young designer, along the way. Now he hopes to help others avoid similar mistakes.
“When I was still building the brand David Tlale, I never got proper mentorship and also being exposed to the fashion industry and learning the ropes of the fashion industry, I’d say correctly. I had to learn and find myself, burnt bridges and made a lot of mess. I think it’s because of information not being available to young designers about how to build a business.”
Tlale has also called on other established designers to offer similar opportunities to other young designers.
“As a designer, having interns in your studio does not mean they are literally coming to steal your ideas but to learn. We need to make sure that young designers understand the business of fashion, before they make a mess or waste their time,” he says.