Considered a fashion pioneer in his native South Africa and the African continent at large, designer David Tlale is gearing up for his namesake brand’s next chapter. In a move unprecedented by most of his peers based in the Motherland, Tlale is adding a line of fragrances to a portfolio which currently consists of high-end ready-to-wear, made-to-order, and bridal wear.
“Throughout the years I’ve always wanted to become a globally recognized fashion brand. We’ve showcased in Paris and New York City which is great, but I think to myself, ‘Can we just conquer the continent first?’” Tlale tells me when we meet inside his expansive multi-story headquarters in Marshalltown, Johannesburg. His office once functioned as a set for the 2013 film release Mandela: Long Walk To Freedom, starring Idris Elba. “Mandela & Tambo Attorneys” logos, are still visible throughout the space. Tlale’s rise in fashion coincided with that of the former South African president and anti-Apartheid activist. “Post-1994, when South Africa became a democracy, we saw the rise of black South African fashion designers. I started working from home to do wedding dresses and prom dresses. In 2003 I took a leap of faith and decided to build my brand. It was around the same year that fashion started to become more of a business locally and there was growing support for local designers amongst South African retailers. In addition, our lifestyles started changing: South Africa’s middle class grew, people developed an appetite for local design, and wealthy locals felt the need to have a go-to fashion designer for their family.”
Inside the fashion designer’s office one will find a tall gold-plated throne chair with leather seating. This may or may not be a nod to the “King of South African fashion” nickname, South African media often use in reference to him. Tlale is currently looking to expand his kingdom beyond his native country, and is putting Africa first. “I used to have a store at the Michelangelo Towers in Sandton (Johannesburg), a lot of Nigerians were amongst my core clientele there. Africans outside of South Africa respond positively to the brand. The main issue right now is how we get the product in other African countries, beyond made-to-order clients. There are plans to have an atelier, or even a showroom, in Lagos. So let’s see what happens.”
Though the strategy is there, Tlale admits that in terms of timelines there are still some uncertainties, “I really want to focus on Africa first by having stand-alone stores across the continent and grow into the intercontinental market from there. It becomes easier when you have a following back home, cause even when you open a location in Europe or anywhere else in the world, Africans are the ones that are going to support you on a larger scale.”
At present, the David Tlale brand retails blouses at a price of roughly $600, and ready-to-wear dresses starting at $1,200. “If we use imported fabrics the price increases,” Tlale adds, who welcomes clients into his studio by appointment. Those clients are typically women who fall in the upper income bracket. The designer is looking to reach a wider demographic, by adding fragrances to his offerings, following the recent addition of men’s underwear. “Over the past three years we’ve done collaborations with South African underwear brand Jockey. The initial idea however, was for them to manufacture our underwear, which is currently the case as part of a licensing deal.”
A future addition to Tlale’s more affordable offerings, is a fragrance for him, and another one for her. “We’re currently working on our first perfume for male, and female. It’s our first step into cosmetics and we’re working with the same company that develops fragrances for Prada and Gucci. So in terms of pricing you should think of a price point similar to those brands, since the ingredients, packaging, and marketing will be on point.” The designer explains how the launch of the fragrance (which release is scheduled for the year 2019/2020) will have him apply a more aggressive marketing strategy with regards to buying advertising space across print and digital platforms.
By launching his perfume, Tlale will operate within a segment that is largely untapped by local entrepreneurs. In the year 2016, Scent of Africa, produced by Ghana-based cosmetics firm Ghandour Cosmetics, made headlines for delivering Africa’s first luxury perfume. The South African fashion designer concludes, “The perfumes wouldn’t be part of a licensing agreement. We’re paying for everything ourselves so we’ll own the product and distribution. We’re also adding accessories – so 2019 will be a big year for us.”