The sun is deceptively high in the sky. While it beams on a pair of golfers returning from the greens, there is a slight chill in the air.
Sporting a newsboy cap, a navy Jonathan D hoodie and a string of pearls over a thick silver chain, Dale Strime doesn’t seem to feel the breeze.
Maybe it’s because he’s been doing his best to keep the fashion streets hot.
Strime is the creative lead and head of design at Jonathan D, and one of the reasons the label has, in two years, gone from your uncle’s clothes to what is now colloquially referred to as JD Africa, more fitting to be your cool cousin’s drip.
You can see the likes of streetwear king Siya “Scoop” Makhathini singing its praises, and even influencer extraordinaire Twiggy Moli co-signing JD’s cosy winter campaign shot by celebrity photographer Cedric Nzaka. But behind the fanfare is a team, led by Strime, that has been working hard to change the perception of the brand by elevating the designs.
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“We have a really exciting team,” Strime exclaims. “The bosses at JD are incredible and I respect them tremendously because people find it hard to accept change, but they were open-minded and gave us the reins.
“Jonathan D started in 1978 and was one of the first South African brands to do fashion locally – no one at that stage was making fancy shirts for men. They had a specific look and feel, and the customer base grew with the brand. What I think happened was the brand was growing with the customer too, in that it didn’t focus on one age.
“When the customers turned 30, it focused on 30-year-olds and when the customers turned 40, it focused on 40-year-olds.
It started as a youthful fashion menswear brand and we wanted to go back to that. When I came in, I wanted us to start from where JD was, stick to the foundations of the brand and just update them.”
Strime says much of the research into the brand’s customer base revealed that most people perceived Jonathan D to be their father’s or uncle’s brand and that it is worn by a lot of taxi drivers. But “that customer base is still a huge foundation of the brand, so we still cater to them and still do our golfers. We still want them to wear nice clothes too,” he laughs.
“My main approach started with our concentrating on fit and fabrics,” the designer with the cascading auburn beard continues.
“Secondly, I told the team ‘we’re not going to watch anybody or any other brands’. For us to create a new story, we just have to start afresh and build a South African brand that focuses on fit and fabric, and is redefining what core garments are.
“We want to have a brand that is a love mark and provides core garments in fashion – that’s why the Everyday Classics tagline came up.”
These classics include thick hoodies in radiant colours, tassel sneakers, socks that feel like a hug for your feet, flannel sets and – Strime’s favourite – the penny moc shoes.
This designer’s affection for certain garments is palpable in conversation. Part of it comes from knowing he wanted to make a living designing shoes and headwear since he was a teenager.
After matric, he had the opportunity to move to London, where he applied for jobs at Gucci, Topshop and JD Sports. The last retailer gave him his first job – which included re-lacing sneakers after people had tried them on in the store.
Gucci gave him a luxurious rejection letter and, much later, Topshop hired him, but not for the coveted “rockstar role” of personal shopper.
Even so, he used that experience to truly feel materials and learn what he did and didn’t want to do when he would eventually start his own brands.
There was Swede & Crowe as well as the streetwear mainstay, streeks, which also had a store in Braamfontein when the district first became a cool kid hub a few years ago.
“I needed and wanted to learn the balancing act between art and commerce,” he says of being a shop owner.
“Towards the end of streeks, I started doing a lot to please other people, to be a [big] name that could stand up to international brands and prove that I can do it again and it can be powerful. I didn’t stop because of any financial issues, I just discovered I needed to reset.”
So the creative who holds a BCom degree closed shop and pursued avenues that would allow him to “recalibrate and enjoy the art of creating again and let the businessmen worry about business. I knew I’d get back into business when the art aligned with me again.”
Strime then became the creative lead and head of marketing for Fila. He successfully brought an old legacy brand into the consciousness of young people.
Next, he joined JD Africa, where he truly seems to be at home.
Circling back to the art and commerce balance, Strime says: “My bosses have tremendous knowledge and experience in that field and, for me and my growth in the industry, it is pivotal to be able to be surrounded by people I respect, admire and can learn from.”
Also known as a musician, Strime has set his drumsticks aside and hopes to teach his toddler daughter how to play instead.
This is another tell-tale sign that he has consistently valued being behind the scenes to help others elevate, feel – and look – their best.
Wherever his path takes him, a hole in one is sure to follow.