Saturday, 14 May
16 Feb 2021
With almost two decades in the business, luxury fashion designer David Tlale is easily one of the most recognisable and distinguished designers in the country.
The pandemic, and everything that came with it – including the lockdown – saw several fashion businesses across the world either downsizing or shutting down completely. The most recent of these being Rihanna’s Fenty fashion line.
With all that’s taking place in the world right now, one can’t help but marvel at the fact that David Tlale has been able to open 4 new stores across the country since the South African lockdown came into effect towards the end of March last year (2020).
READ MORE | Rihanna’s Fenty fashion label closes after two years
Since then, the renowned designer has opened stores in Melrose Arch (JHB), Menlyn Shopping Centre (PTA), Riboville Boutique Hotel (Midrand), and most recently in Cape Town.
We caught up with him to find out how the lockdown impacted his business and vision, how he’s managed to stay relevant for so long, and his plans for the future.
Tlale says that the lockdown had a negative and positive impact on his business.
“The negative side is that, in the beginning, there weren’t a lot of customers coming meaning that there wasn’t much business as well,” he says.
“It knocked us on productivity and distribution and we found ourselves having to make masks, like any other design house locally and internationally.”
On the positive side of things, Tlale says that the lockdown allowed them to really look within as a business.
“We realised that international brands couldn’t bring in their products, and that presented an opportunity for us – not only to sell but to also amplify our message of ‘proudly made in South Africa’,” he says.
“Also, I think not being able to travel helped me pay more attention to our local market and made me ask myself ‘how can I cease the moment?’.”
When the country’s lockdown restrictions started easing up, Tlale noticed a major change in buying patterns from the initial level 4 and 5 lockdowns.
“We saw a major change in terms of the buying power,” he says. “I think that’s what really pushed us to get into the head space of amplifying our local market; that’s when we realised we need to start having outlets.”
It was soon after this that he opened the first store in Melrose Arch, Johannesburg. And just earlier this month, he opened his fourth store in Cape Town.
“One thing I can take away from the pandemic is that it helped us to re-zone and re-look at our capacity for manufacturing and distribution as a brand.”
When it comes to the creative industry, longevity is one of the hardest things to achieve. We can think of many local brands that we loved just 10 years that are no longer in business or visible today. But not David Tlale.
Amongst other things, the designer says that his spirituality and his faith in God is the leading reason for his long-lasting success.
“God’s hand and His grace have done wonders for the brand.”
He also says that persistence, passion, patience, constantly striving for excellence, and being able to continually re-invent have been the key pillars for the success of his brand.
“I always say that this is not a shake and bake industry; it’s hard work,” he tells us. “You have to put in the work, the hours and you have to be patient because fashion is an art and it takes time.”
If opening four stores during a global pandemic is anything to go by, we can rest assured that there’s a lot more in store for the brand in the coming months/years.
“Over the years we’ve been building – we’ve done the most amazing fashion shows in the most amazing spaces,” he says.
“But now it’s time to get into the business of fashion and it’s one of those things I can proudly say the pandemic taught us. It’s not about having 500 people coming to your fashion show, it’s about selling 500 items. That’s what drives business and makes sure that the business is actually growing. Our vision is to amplify our distribution channels and also to get on this really hardcore patriotic movement of promoting and supporting local brands and local manufacturing.