David Tlale on life lessons, his first internship and upcoming collections

Johannesburg – With 15 years experience in the game, David Tlale is undoubtedly one of the most sought-after South African designers.

He's showcased his work on runways across the globe, dressed a number of major stars, and even passed down his knowledge through his own reality show The Intern, and things are only getting better for this fashion giant.

Chatting to The Juice, David let us in on some of the lessons his learned over the years, his very first internship, and his plans for his upcoming collection. 

Let’s take a trip down memory lane – do you remember the first piece you designed? 

The first piece that I designed was a green and black shirt. I actually created a pattern and my very own fabric without even realising it! 

What is your process when you’re working on a new collection? Where do you draw inspiration from? 

The design process for me is always an organic one. I am very instinctive and introspective. Inspiration comes from my travels as I am an individual that is constantly on the move and I have these ‘aha’ moments while travelling. It’s beautiful!

I never sketch or anything like that but I get inspiration from my surroundings, therefore every collection is inspired and of a moment that has transpired in my mind, and that is how simply (and sometimes not so simply) everything begins and the collections are set in motion. 

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You recently hosted your reality show, The Intern. Did you partake in an internship when you were younger? If so, what was that experience like for you? 

I interned with Julian from The Boys, it was such an amazing learning process and an eye opener. The opportunity to intern exposed me to the real business of fashion, the technicalities of how to make a proper garment and what it takes to build a team and a brand. I believe that this internship was pivotal as I wouldn’t have been aware of the importance of focusing and harnessing the business aspect of fashion on my own.  

I can also recount a day at the Carolina Herrera Atelier which was an eye opener for me as well. This experience reiterated and enforced the importance of team work and excellent contributions from every member of the team. The smallest details are the ones that make the biggest difference on one’s journey to success and ensuring your team knows what they’re doing and the transference of skill to product is very vital. Also having foresight to see oneself beyond being a designer that’s just graduated and started a brand. 

These are just some of the invaluable lessons that internship teaches. I believe internships are powerful because as a young designer that’s just graduated they humble you and you realise the practicality of your industry and the business of fashion behind it because its not just about designing but also other aspects such as selling product, ensuring high quality standards, punctuality and making sure you have great customer service at all times. 

If you could go back in time and give your younger self career advice, what would you say? 

I would advise my younger self to stick to education and make sure I excel and become a master at my craft.

The detail that goes into making a suit jacket for example is something that can easily be taken for granted. It is important to take into consideration the tailoring that goes into creating the perfect jacket and the various elements it takes to get to the final product. 

I would tell myself to take time to start my business and intern more, so I can learn more and gain further skills and extend on the things I do not already know. 

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With the introduction of social media, how would you say the fashion industry has changed over the years? And how can upcoming designers use these new platforms to benefit themselves? 

Social media has played a major role in terms of trends, lifestyle, and access to information.  

Imagine the possibilities that innovation has allowed and how we can now all have access to the Balenciaga show through live streaming.  

The Dolce and Gabbana show is another prime example and how we got to see Wizkid walking the show. We could access this live on our handsets in the comfort of our various location. 

It is important that young designers open themselves up to being informed by the global community and see the lifestyle of the fashion community in its entirety. Once we can all consider social media holistically, we can achieve anything and thrive on it! 

You have to go above and beyond to promote your business on social media and not just take pictures for the sake of it. It’s important to use social media platforms to establish a brand, establish a following and a solid clientele that will want to continuously buy your product. As a fashion designer I believe it’s important to use social media for visibility and to promote one’s product, signature and brand.  

What’s one myth about fashion designers/the fashion industry you could like to debunk? 

First and foremost, we designers are artists.

I would debunk the long-running myth that designers aren’t real people and are pretentious. The reality is that we fashion designers are human as well and have feelings. We experience hurt, disappointment and get excited too.  

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If you could relive one moment from your career so far, what would it be? 

It would be the first time that I showcased at the New York Fashion Week runway. I must say that my first solo runway show at the Lincoln Centre was fantastic! 

You’ll be unveiling a once-off collection based on the colour red at this year’s Durban July. Tell us a little more about this. 

Red by David Tlale is a collaboration with Vodacom Red. They challenged me to come up with a collection inspired by the colour red. For me the colour red is all about being daring, it represents power, danger and suspense so people must watch out because the House of David Tlale will be pulling out all of the stops at the Vodacom Durban July. The collection will be fresh, airy, and light. All about setting a trend and leading the pack. 

I developed a print inspired by life through the symbolism of a tree and the human heartbeat. The print was meticulously considered and crafted. It incorporates human figures that look as if they are in motion. I believe it is representative of what we do as humans: we move, dance, live and all this is intertwined in the tree imagery and heart that is the life source and force of a human body.  

A lot of pattern engineering was done. Lace textures can be expected, organza, the works not forgetting the beautiful Perspex element which will be coming through as well. Altogether unforgettable fashion statements can be anticipated by all as The House of Tlale will be bringing back the glamour to the horse racing event of the year. 

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