Giving up on internal auditing, one of the highest paying careers, to study fashion could have been a futile pursuit of happiness, but the decision paid off for fashion designer and style influencer David Tlale when he launched his own label 16 years ago, and has to date reached a global presence.
Tlale chats to Fast Company South Africa about his journey building an innovative brand.
What was school like for young
I was raised in Vosloorus in the East Rand in Johannesburg by a single mom. I studied at Dithomo Primary School and finished high school at Thuto Lesedi Secondary School. I later enrolled myself at Setlogelo Technikon, which is now better known as the Tshwane University, where I studied internal auditing. I dropped out seven months into my auditing classes because I hated it, and decided to study fashion at Waal University.
Where did your interest in fashion start?
I used to see some students on campus all dressed in grunge and very interesting fashion whilst studying auditing. I approached one of them and asked him about the clothes he was wearing and he happened to be studying fashion. From there on I went to visit fashion students in their classrooms to see what they were doing and I enjoyed it from day one. It was an amazing first impression and I thought this is actually what I would like to study.
Can you tell us more about your new show THE INTERN and how it came about?
The Intern by David Tlale is a programme I conceptualised in 2012. It started in KwaZulu-Natal and I later ran it as a competition in Gauteng before it gained TV attention. The Intern is mostly focused on empowering young people and young designers who want to step up from being graduate students and get ready for the industry. Our main focus is to make sure that we transfer skills and give them the knowledge about the ins and outs of the fashion industry, thus we partner with people like FP&M Seta who are making this programme possible.
Cricket South Africa announced you as one of the ambassador for the 2018 PinkFriday One Day International between the Proteas and India that took place in February, how did this initiative come about?
Cricket South Africa announced me as one of the ambassadors after we agreed on collaboration between CSA and my brand David Tlale. I was keen when they approached me. The task was to bring fashion flair into the whole cricket seen and to make sure it was much more appealing to fashionistas, celebrities, the cricket lovers as well as the players. I found this very interesting.
What’s the recipe for a successful fashion show or collection?
It is the narrative, the colours, how you take your audiences on a journey and how you tell them about your influences to get their full attention with a narrative that evokes a thought process. Without a proper narrative you can easily get lost in translation.
What is your creative process?
My creative process varies from time to time. Sometimes I get my inspiration when I am travelling, listening to music, by types of fabric, patterns, art galleries or even by walking down the streets in Johannesburg or anywhere in the world. I don’t have a manual, it’s almost an organic process.
You are a well respected designer in Africa and across the globe, what would you consider as your ultimate goal?
Our ultimate goal as a brand is to become a global one that is made in South Africa for the global market. To make sure that we learn and walk in the footsteps of great brands like Gucci, and to become a brand that’s available on a global scale.
What would you consider as your most notable accomplishment?
Our most notable accomplishment has been building a brand in South Africa, and this year we are celebrating 16 years in the industry and we are still going strong. The fact that we are still standing, growing and are now starting to supply retail stores like Edgars, Spree and Luminance is an accomplishment.
We are also starting to do much more work in the continent like in Lagos in Ghana, Cote De’vore, Paris, Dubai and New York. We feel like we are right at the beginning of our journey. The 16 years in the industry have brought some of the brightest and insightful experience.
What are your thoughts on South Africa’s fashion and textile industry?
I believe the country’s fashion and textile industry is growing and we are in a space where we learn to understand the business side of fashion. In the past, we used to make clothes without the business sense, but now we are starting to understand that it goes beyond putting together a collection and sales are one of the important aspects of the business. Our industry is producing and competing at a global stage – internationally and locally – and our products are proudly made in South Africa and tell the story of what South Africa is about.
What can we expect from David Tlale in the near future, any upcoming exhibition or collection?
What you can expect from our brand is product availability nationwide and some showcases locally and internationally. We are launching a few new brands, the first being bridal collections. The collections will be mostly focused on the global market as our main target audience, and will be in line with the latest trends so that people – and the world – can start consuming the brand David Tlale.
As an award-winning fashion designer and style influencer, what advice would you give to young aspiring fashion designers and fashion houses?
Education is key. Young aspiring designers must go to school and become educated, learn more and have knowledge of the career path. One needs to be well equipped with skills and knowledge before they get into the industry and know exactly what they are bringing to the table.
Designers do not copy or repeat what other designers are doing, whether locally or internationally. You have to make sure that you bring your A-game and make sure you have a distinct signature.
Look at the likes of MaXhosa, Thula Sindi, and the Gavin Rajah’s, you can tell that we have a particular signature. It is important for aspiring fashion designer to do that as well, and be willing to learn and be willing to work hard because the industry is not for the faint hearted.
What does David Tlale want to be remembered for?
I want to be remembered for my legacy and how I have touched and changed people’s lives or perceptions about the fashion industry. And to be remembered as an African child who made it possible to take it locally and internationally.
30 Second Bio
“Life is a journey celebrated in style.”
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz
Favourite Tech Gadget
I don’t have that, each day is as different as the next
How do you unwind and relax
Reading, dining and listening to good music
Best moment in your life
When I decided to quit auditing and study fashion design