Jockeying for position

This article was written by Buhle Mbonambi for Independent Online.
Durban – Fashion designer David Tlale has notched up another achievement.

He is one of the most illustrious designers on the continent and there is no denying his success. He has conquered South Africa and the continent and his shows at New York Fashion Week have been grabbing the right kind of attention.

So it comes as no surprise that Jockey wants to work with him. It’s the first major deal for a South African designer creating a range of underwear for an international brand.

“It was one of those big deals that I couldn’t say no to,” the designer told me from his Joburg studio. “Jockey is a huge brand. Everyone knows and/or wears Jockey.

The collaboration, which will hit stores in July, will see Tlale create a special collection of luxury underwear for men and women.

”It’s obviously going to have a higher price… It’s luxury underwear. It’s one you want to see people wearing.

“Many people take underwear seriously, which is why brands like Calvin Klein have a successful underwear range. We see it at the gym. We see the branded elastication of the underwear peeping out from men’s jeans. There’s a certain status afforded to it. So why can’t we replicate that success with a label that’s very popular in South Africa?”

This Jockey deal and other brand extension commitments are the reasons why he decided not to showcase at New York Fashion Week this season. “To be honest, we are busy. It was purely a business move and we will be back in September for the summer 2017.”

His engagements in the country and on the continent, are keeping him on the hop.

“Yes, everyone knows David Tlale and what the brand stands for, but we want to make inroads and increase our footprint. There’s a big demand from countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe.”

The three years and six seasons he has been showing in New York, Tlale says, have given him the guts to aim to show in other fashion capitals, like Paris. “The plan is to go global and I feel we are well on our way to doing that.”

Designers are now choosing to show their ranges out of season. Tom Ford, Burberry, Vetements, Michael Kors and Tommy Hilfiger are choosing to show less and make their clothes available immediately. This move is called the “buy-now wear-now” model, and it is revolutionary because it will close the six-month time lag between the presentation and retail delivery.

Tlale loves this. “No one waits six months for an item they saw on the runway. They want it now. We have consumers who, when they see the item, want it at that moment, and it’s great for the industry.”

While it will mean that they must work harder, it will cut down the copycat designs of the fast fashion brands.

“It used to be that you showed your collection and a few weeks later, the fast fashion stores had replicated your work. When your clothes landed on the racks of stores six months later, people didn’t buy them because they had something similar.”

He is disappointed some South African retailers rarely stock local designs. “We are talented and it’s sad that you rarely see our designs in major retailers like Woolworths, Edgars and Markham.

In the US you find collections from their designers in almost every clothing store.

“Why don’t we have the same system in South Africa?”

The solution, he said, was to pressure retailers to support local fashion. “With shops like Topshop, Zara and H&M in the country, it’s a great opportunity for our retailers to focus on local designers and work with them.

“I am working on a diffusion line called David by David Tlale, which will be sold on e-tailer, Spree. We need more of these. And the ‘South African designers are unreliable’ excuse will not fly any more. How are you, as a retailer, helping the designer know the business so the clothes will be delivered on time?

“Can we please be given a chance? That’s how the industry will grow, when we work together.”

His next show is in Durban for the Metro FM Music Awards Fashion Experience at the Waterfront Hotel on Friday.

“It’s a small capsule collection but it celebrates the MMAs and how much (of a role) that has played in my career.”