Ayanda Mthembu and Nokwanda Ngcobo are among the group of interns who have spent time working with fashion mogul David Tlale to improve their skills and get more insight on the business of fashion.
But while united in their love for clothing design, Mthembu and Ngcobo have different experiences in fashion.
“When I was very young, my grandmother used to show me how she put together clothing for dolls,” says 22-year-old Mthembu.
“As a teenager I would spend time sketching superheroes who wore interesting garments. I never thought it was possible to make a career out of fashion.”
During a brief stint as a model, Mthembu also got more fashion exposure and felt he could do a better job than some of the designers he was modelling for.
With more experience in the clothing business, fellow intern Ngcobo doesn’t remember when her love affair with fashion began. In fact, she believes it’s something that she was just born with.
Not knowing how to make money from her passion, Ngcobo decided to get a job nine-to-five job after completing her diploma in design at the Durban University of Technology. After hours, she would create garments for her friends and family in her small home studio.
For Ngcobo, the David Tlale internship is the perfect way to sharpen her design skills, while immersing herself in a passion which she had neglected for years.
“I’ve always known that I’m talented when it comes to fashion,” she says. “But if you’re serious about this industry,
talent with no skills is useless. That is why it’s always important for designers to improve their skills.”
For Mthembu, who has dreams to open his own fashion business, Tlale is the perfect mentor. So when the opportunity came for the pair to apply, they grabbed it.
In collaboration with the University of Kwazulu-Natal, Tlale held a workshop with graduates from various design schools in KZN.
After seeing some examples of their work, the most promising young designers were given the opportunity to do a one-year internship with him in Johannesburg.
“When I was a young designer, we rarely had opportunities like these where we had real-life designers giving us real-life experiences. There’s a profound difference between the theoretical experience and real-life experience – and I feel this would be an enriching time for young designers,” says Tlale.
But instead of limiting the interns’s experience to just Tlale’s garments, the designer has given them the opportunity to develop their own collections and show them at the Mercedez-Benz Fashion Week.
“That way, they get to have a hands-on experience, see how to build a collection from scratch and experience the Fashion Week mania, which can be stressful for designers” says Tlale.
For a young designer, Mthembu’s debut collection at Fashion Week was surprisingly mature. The designer drew his inspiration from the evolutionary theory of gradualism. In his pieces, stereotypical shapes gradually morphed into other outlines. While the changes between the elements are slight, the overall look is quite dramatic. Mthembu’s collection could easily go down the ramps of New York Fashion Week.
The soft colours that dominate the collection and the sharp and strong shapes create a perfect balance between hard and soft, giving the whole look a powerful, yet feminine, look.
“There is a lot of me in this collection,” says Mthembu.
“I’ve incorporated a lot of my stylistic preferences. I love looking powerful, modern and fresh and think my collection encompasses a a lot of that.”
For Ngcobo, “African print is where it’s at”.
Her collection, named “Afropolitan” was her attempt to use African print in interesting new ways. “At first I was being inspired by many things,” she says.
“But I decided to narrow it down to my biggest inspiration: African success. I love seeing successful women who enjoy expressing their African heritage. The word ‘Afropolitan’ means, to me, ‘African City’ – so I tried to fuse African heritage with mo-dern city wear.”
Having done a huge fashion show within two months of their internship, the interns will need something special to keep them busy for the rest of the year.
“David is firm on us learning about the business of fashion,” says Ngcobo.
“Apart from runway shows, designers also need to know how to run successful businesses, which is what a lot of designers struggle with. So for the next couple of months we will carry on working closely with David and learn as much as we can. It’s possible to make a successful career in fashion.”