“Do not try to be another designer. Just be you so that we have something different to talk about” –
It takes nothing to join the crowd but everything to stand alone. And as such, celebrated successful personalities are set apart for they have walked a different and a road less traveled. Every individual who wishes to be successful has mastered the art of hard work, but what sets them on an even greater height is their ability to be different and narrate a different story. So why fit in when you were born to stand out?
This is the philosophy that has pushed personalities like David Tlale to only be celebrated as one in the crowd but someone who also carries an individual signature. The fashion designer today has not only created a strong brand in South Africa but has distinguished himself in the international market.
Born 29 January 1975, Tlale is a South African fashion designer whose work has been showcased at the Cape Town Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, and Paris Fashion Week and who has also designed collections for major retailers like Edgars. Tlale prides himself on working with super models such as Tyson Beckford, Nykhor Paul (Sudan) and Oluchi (Face of Africa winner).
Tlale was a semi finalist at the South African Fashion Week Elle New Talent Show Competition in 2002. In May 2003, Tlale started working from home running a design studio and has studios in Cape Town and Johannesburg.
He has proven that being different isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it means one is brave enough to be themselves in a market where creativity counts from the get-go.
David was recently in Namibia to launch his intern programme called “The Intern“.
“In my internship program, I tell my students on Day 1; do not try to be me. Do not even try to compete with me. I have done my degree in fashion; I have been running for 17 years so you can do the mathematics. So how are you gonna catch up?” said Tlale.
The designer is strong on the need for upcoming designers to believe in themselves with a strong passion in order to make it. While at this, Tlale also believes that the fashion industry has already established grounds watered with talents from all over the world, and as such, there is no need to compete when there is ample space to exist, but with something new to talk about.
“It is not even about colour here. It is all about believing in you. People are easy to copy what other people are doing, especially black people. We say – I don’t want to go to fashion school but I can put together African prints and then I want to compete with David Tlale. You don’t know what it took for me to be where I am today. I am coming to make a difference. I’m coming with a different signature. I’m coming with a different narrative.”
“You look at how colourful and loud we are as Africans. You have something special and there is something the world is looking for.
How do you go to Italy, buy fabric in Italy, make it in Africa and try to compete with Italians. You are not gonna stand out. You have to excel in what you do in Africa – crafted beautifully. And then take it out because once it is different, then we have a point of departure and interest.”
Before doing what he loves, he was studying Auditing at Tswane University in South Africa. He realized it was not his calling so he dropped out, a move that angered his mother who eventually stopped supporting him. He started meeting up some design students and subconsciously got into the creative space. In no order, he used to work at a hair salon, he learned how to do flower arrangements, he would decorate parties, and at most weddings he used to be the self-appointed stylist. The creative bug eventually got to him.
Then with no financial support from his mother, he decided to look for a job in order to raise funds for school again. He took on the ‘hustle’ and at the same time applied for a study loan. “In my first day in fashion class, I knew this was my thing. I did not even think twice, I just knew that it was what I wanted.”
Throughout his studies, Tlale walked the extra mile to improve his talent and to be the best in class – efforts that led him to where he stands today. His talent was inevitably being recognised including by his mother who he now says is his biggest fan.
He launched his brand in 2003, a time when racism was still on the rise in his country. So here was a young black man with a big attitude who just came and shook the industry.
In 2007, Tlale decided to go solo with a reason he termed – ‘I was done reporting to people who don’t get it.’ Today, the brand David Tlale is not only a continental household name but a competitive signature on the international markets – an achievement he never saw coming.
“Growing up I never saw this. I never knew that I would have showcased 10 times in less than 14 years. But I knew for sure that I was not going to be my dad. Something in me be told me that I was born for greatness. We as a brand crafted our own journey. We learned our own mistakes and having to introduce the signature David Tlale to the public was quiet challenging yet interesting . But look at where we stand now, we can see the results of all the investment that has been done.”
Tlale advices that there is business in fashion and designers can live off it just like other professions, “but designers need to be themselves and bring something new.”
From New York to Lagos Naigeria, in the fashion world David Tlale is a name to remember. His name is remembered for daring yet elegant couture.