The CEO and co-founder of FORT, Shukri Toefy, a creative production company present in five African countries, speaks about a ‘youth board’ and why failure has never been an option for him.
- What are your plans for promoting youth development in Africa?
They are our future target market that will consume our content. [The stance] is so important for us that we started a youth board [with people] in their early 20s and we can ask them what is cool. [We ask them] is Snapchat still cool and are they still on Instagram? Because as we get older [as a way] to future-proof our company, we need to have our ear to the ground to know what young people are talking about. As the CEO of a creative agency, I have quarterly meetings with my youth board in which I speak to them to find out what are they wearing, where are they going and what is cool and not cool anymore, so that I can be better resourced to implement that with my clients and the rest of the people. It is a cool way of future-proofing who we are and what we do.
- What was your biggest risk?
It was starting our network across Africa. I think we put a lot of money in opening our offices in Kenya and Nigeria. If we count the flights, legal structures etc. it would be an estimate of R2 million ($136,000) to R3 million ($204,000).
- What has been your greatest challenge in the industry?
Our greatest challenge right now is that when we are in recessionary times, [so usually] marketing and communications is the first thing that is to be cut. Secondly, independently, African companies don’t have the financial backing that some of these globally-owned agencies have. So they don’t have the ability to go out and scale up [on production] like they could.
- Who is the most influential person you have worked with?
The Oxford facilitator I met in June…gave me a different perspective on life and I came back with so many tools on how to see the world and view things. He calmed me down.
- Your views on mentorship…
I have had the benefit of having coffee or breakfast with highly successful people and I think that is one of the most valuable things you could have as an entrepreneur, to actually have people that you could bounce off ideas with. That you could learn from them and their mistakes and they could guide you.
- Your biggest fear…
I am not fearful of failing because I don’t think failure is an option. I just don’t see it. It is not constructed for me…You can’t beat me. Today you might beat me and tomorrow it will be me [on top of things] because I see it as all part of my journey.
- What would you say to your 16-year-old self?
Slow down and enjoy the ride because it goes so quickly. I was in a hurry to try and take advantage of every opportunity that I had. [As a young person] you have that militancy in you to say ‘you need to take every opportunity that comes your way’. I think that is why I am here but you later realize that it is all part of the journey and there is no such thing as failure. It is about failing forward and it is about failing often. And it is about seeing it as a much bigger journey rather than your day-to-day failures.
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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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