To thrive in the fashion industry you need to grow a thick skin.
This was the message from global fashion guru David Tlale to the 12 design entrepreneurs who are part of the national Threads Stitched by Standard Bank Competition.
The four-month contest, which began at the end of October and concludes in March, will see the 12 acquire business management and marketing skills from the Universita Cattolica of Milan in a part-time 12-week programme.
They meet twice a week to learn about the industry, financial literacy, manufacturing logistics and business skills, and are expected to give weekly reports on how they have implemented what they have learnt in their businesses.
Visiting East London on Monday, Tlale told the entrepreneurs they needed to be firm in their belief in their brands.
“Fashion is not for sissies – you need to have a concrete skin and find what makes your designs unique. Stop trying to be like somebody else and be yourself, stay in your own lane and focus on being you.
“There’s a lot of power in collaboration and instead of competing with everyone and trying to be a jack of all trades, form partnerships with others whom you can see have expertise in areas where you don’t and complement each other in your designs,” he said.
Tlale urged them not to be intimidated by international clothing stores opening in South Africa but to see this as an opportunity for them to distribute through these stores. “Don’t worry about imports from China, they are not going anywhere. Instead they are growing each year and the machinery they are using is out of this world.
“Use the opportunity you have as South Africans from a diverse heritage and culture to make your designs stand out in this world.”
Tlale urged the designers to use the networks available through consulates and embassies throughout the globe and brands like Proudly SA and the National Empowerment Fund, which backed him.
“Building a business from scratch with no financial backing can be a real mess. I’m happy to see Standard Bank backing this programme because many banks don’t recognise fashion as a business – they are too concerned about succession plans.”
Tlale warned designers against incurring debt by trying to run their own outlets and encouraged them to distribute through retail stores.
One of the entrepreneurs on the programme, Cape Town designer Anthony Smith, 39, of 2BOB street wear, said he was embarrassed when he learnt that Tlale knew about his brand when he did not know about Tlale until yesterday. “We are in a different line of fashion, but I can see he is a big fish with a lot of experience and it was interesting learning from his journey.”
Tshepo the Jean Maker founder Tsepo Mahlala, 25, from the East Rand, said the session with Tlale was informative.
“He is a straight talker who opened up about his real life experiences, some of which I can relate to, and it has given a lot of insight about possible challenges we can face along the way,” he said.
Port Elizabeth-based Asanda Mali, 33, of Mal’Stones, said the whole Threads Stitched programme was an amazing learning curve.
“I want to be the Zorra of plus size people who also deserve to look stylish and trendy and this is the perfect platform to learn everything I need,” she said.
East London designer Yamkela Lize, who owns Refined Revolt clothes and handbags, is among the 12. — firstname.lastname@example.org