The award-winning men’s fashion designer on the business of fashion and dressing up no less than the South African president.
1. Who you would like to dress and why?
I would like to dress our [South Africa’s] head of state Cyril Ramaphosa; that would be really good on my CV. But not only that, simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. When you look at ministers and presidents, they look simple yet sophisticated. What people don’t realize is the most simple outfits are the most difficult to make. You can’t over-accessorize, you just can’t over-design. You have to keep it very clean and minimalistic and also in harmony with the person’s character…So I am ready for that challenge.
2. As a designer, when is the right time to start expanding to retail?
As designers, we all have different business strategies. What works for one designer does not necessarily work for the other. But the best time to start is when as you fully understand the business of fashion and have completed your internship. The one thing I always advise upcoming designers is to not be too much in a hurry to establish their brand, because you will end up being an overnight sensation.
3. What does it take to build a brand like Palse Homme?
Blood, sweat and water from the moon. It’s a long journey that does not have milestones in between, the reason I say that is that it’s like running a marathon that does not have a finish line. You have to strive to get somewhere and the day you get there, that is when you get to retire.
4. How do you stay disciplined with your money?
I am very prudent when it comes to my finances. As an entrepreneur, you cannot do it all by yourself… so I have outsourced my public relations and finance services to the experts.
5. What is your most expensive indulgence?
Sunglasses. I once spent R6,000 ($450) on them. I am a hoarder of good sunglasses; I don’t even know how many pairs I have.
6. What is the biggest challenge you have faced in the fashion industry?
It’s very difficult for designers to attract potential investors. People don’t understand that to be able to showcase my designs during fashion week, it means we have to pay to be part of fashion week, most importantly, we have to raise capital, and the overheads become extremely insane because you have to come up with money to be able to put together your collection. Simultaneously, when you do that, you are even unable to take orders. You are stressing about that fashion week night that will take only five to 10 minutes. Mind you, while you are working on that, you have overheads like salaries and rent.
7. What do you spend your money on?
Traveling! I always say to people I enjoy being out of the city and the country. There is something about traveling that just shifts your mind-set and makes you more appreciative of what you have back home [South Africa]…You realize that we have it all, in terms of food to the most amazing hotels; the energy people exude is phenomenal. We live in a very beautiful country.
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Fashion, Fame and Finances With SA Designer, David Tlale
How would you say the African fashion market is growing?
We are starting to understand the business of fashion; how to create brands that are custom-made in Africa, which is what we need to be doing and I think more than anything else, we need local customers supporting local designers. Another thing we need to start seeing is retailers supporting proudly ‘made in Africa’ or ‘made in South Africa’ products because that’s the only way for us to become game-changers in the fashion industry. When you look at big brands in the US, Europe or anywhere else in the world, they work very closely with their local designers.
Your most expensive indulgence?
Fabric! When I go to a fabric store, locally and internationally, I am like a kid in a candy store. I would rather buy expensive fabric different to whatever is available locally [South Africa], to make sure I can still sell that to my clients. When it comes to fabric, I go all out.
What do you mostly spend your money on?
Shoes and handbags.
How have you maintained your brand over the years?
The only way for us a brand to grow is to continue reinventing ourselves every season. As a designer or as an artist, you are only as good as your previous collection. Also, don’t try and compete with anyone, but do and believe what ‘brand David Tlale’ stands for. It happens that from time to time we keep serving them the same thing, like the white blouse. Our customers also want it, but the question is, how do we reinvent it for the next season or the next collection?
The significance of grooming young African designers…?
It is realizing they are the future…the ones going to take the fashion industry to the next level making sure we still have brands from Africa to the global markets…It is important to expose them to the business of fashion because when I grew up, no one took me by the hand and said ‘David, this is how the business of fashion is’. We were told we have to showcase at fashion week but beyond that or before that, what happens? Now we understand that.
What was your first job and what did you learn from it?
I was a lecturer at Vaal University for four and a half years, just before I graduated. I was able to buy my mom new furniture and I bought myself some sewing machines. I am proud to say that my investment into that machinery has made us who we are as David Tlale. We now have a studio and a brand that is growing.
How do you diversify your investments?
What we have done as David Tlale, over the years, is to build the brand and invest everything into this brand. We are now starting to look at other investment portfolios so we are able to get different sources of income, not only from clothing; making sure we invest in the brand, as a lifestyle brand, it be accessories, handbags or perfume. We are working on a lot of things because we want to ensure that in the next few years, David Tlale is a holistic fashion brand.
What is your most recent acquisition?
A printing machine. It is a huge investment we have made for our business making sure that we are able to look different in the industry and can print our [own] fabric.
Your worst investment decision?
To believe in someone who did not believe in my brand…I suffered dearly from it but today I am better. We are on the journey to reposition David Tlale, ensuring we become a luxury brand proudly made in South Africa by South Africans [and selling to] the international markets.
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