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David Tlale’s ‘The Intern’ Shines Light on the Importance of Mentorship in the African Fashion Industry

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Ever since his first foray into the fashion industry over 15 years ago, David Tlale has proven himself to be a forward thinking innovator and a trendsetter of note. As a designer he’s always stuck his vision, taking his creative talent to new heights with every show. Within his first year in the industry, he won the esteemed South African Fashion Week Elle New Talent Show. He’s known as the “King of Fashion” and is the first South African designer to showcase at the prestigious world stages of New York fashion week and Paris fashion week. The David Tlale brand is a notable example of African excellence and luxury at its best and most authentic.

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Not being one to rest on his laurels, Tlale has come full circle to provide guidance and training to emerging fashion designers through his reality show, The Intern. The show is a breath of fresh air and shows a different side of Tlale as a nurturing but tough mentor. I don’t know why, but I was pleasantly surprised to notice how hands-on Tlale was with his interns. He doesn’t merely tell them what is wrong or right with a garment, but offers constructive criticism aimed at improving their skills, and is not afraid to get in there with his scissors to demonstrate! Through The Intern, Tlale has once again set the bar higher for fashion veterans, showing the importance and impact of coaching emerging designers.

With an evolving fashion industry, Africa still has a long way to go before it becomes a fully sustainable industry powerhouse, where hundreds of local designers can thrive at the same time due to the support they receive from the public. And the main culprit behind the lack of rapid development in the fashion sector is the fact that consumers complain of poor quality standards. Young designers also fail when it comes to managing the business side of things, and are often unable to sustain or expand their fashion enterprises. One of the key benefits of having a mentor like Tlale, is that one gets to learn about the business side of fashion early on, while improving their game when it comes to the technical construction of a garment and proper quality control.

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I’m not saying that other experienced designers don’t have mentoring programmes or that they’re not willing to extend a hand of support to provide coaching to young designers. It’s just that the fashion industry could use with some shaking up when it comes to developing a robust mentorship culture between established designers and emerging ones.

Designers like Marianne Fassler, Roman Handt, SA Fashion Week founder Lucilla Booyzen and others have all played a crucial role in the development of emerging designers. On the other hand, the Emerging Creatives programme from the Design Indaba and South African Department of Arts and Culture is another great support mechanism for emerging designers, and provides a full basket of structured mentorship to young designers. The Durban Fashion Flair is another example of a mentorship programme aimed at preparing young designers for the industry, from the technical aspects to business specifics.

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However, those programmes are far and few in between and they certainly do not meet the demand from thousands of dedicated designers who are willing and able to learn and become world-class designers. For our fashion industry to be celebrated as an indelible part of our culture that has the potential to contribute to the economy there needs to be more viable platforms that create growth opportunities for young designers. Hopefully The Intern will inspire other established designers to create robust mentorship programmes that can then produce formidable participants in a thriving fashion industry.  

After all, the African fashion dusty is teeming with passionate, talented and hard-working designers who only need to have an olive branch extended to them in order to blossom. So, while some might see it as just entertainment, some of us perceive The Intern as an effort by Tlale to promote dynamic mentorship for the betterment of the fashion industry.  And for that we say, more power to him and the movement!  

By Anelisa Nokoyo

Credit: David Tlale 

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