Ntando Ngwenya on being David Tlale’s assistant designer

Ntando Ngwenya, the 2017 winner of The Intern by David Tlale, chats to us about what it means to be mentored by one of the most successful fashion designers in Africa.

By: Mokgadi Letsoalo

“Becoming David Tlale’s assistant was a result of hard work. The title seems big on TV and magazines but in the business of fashion, it symbolises the beginning,” says the 27-year-old.

Ngwenya was announced as the winner of the competition at the AFI Mercedes Benz fashion week held in Cape Town in April. He walked away with the coveted post of working as Tlale’s assistant designer for a year.

Through the internship programme, Ngwenya also showcased at the AFI Mercedes Benz fashion week. He has since created collections including his Afrofuturism Spring Summer 2017 collection under the The intern by David Tlale umbrella.

Shortly after the announcement, Tlale described Ngwenya as a “mini” version of himself to Elle South Africa.

David Tlale hands Ntando the trophy
David Tlale hands Ntando the trophy

As the new assistant designer and the mini of a design giant, the pressure fits the title. “When I started here, I thought I knew certain things, especially the business side of fashion. But, you get into a field and you realise you don’t know anything at all. I did not agree with most of his views about fabrics, the right audience or the right cut at the beginning. But, I learned to trust his over 20 years’ experience in the business,” explains Ntando.

Growing up in Soshanguve, Ngwenya always wanted to become a fashion designer. He enrolled for a two-year diploma, studying clothing production at the Tshwane South College. However, he did not finish due to a lack of funds. This did not slow his drive and determination to be in the fashion industry as he went straight into business with the support of his family.

Without a qualification in his hand, he relied on gathering information from individuals already in the industry. “People will judge you on certain things because of the lack of a qualification but as long as your family has got your back, nothing can break you,” he says.

From the age of 12, Ngwenya sat on his aunt’s sewing machine and taught himself how to sew. “My family never turned a blind eye on my career. I mean, I made my cousin’s wedding and bridesmaids’ dresses, while I was still in school,” he reveals.

Ntando walks at the Mercedes Benz Fashion week
Ntando walks at the Mercedes Benz Fashion week

Ngwenya also has his own brand XV Artisan, which he calls “his baby”. “I cannot turn a blind eye on it because I have got this opportunity, it’s still important. You have to know and love what you are doing in order to know how to separate the two. I still have my own clients independently from The House of David Tlale.”

He says Tlale advised him to be patient and “…do things the right way.”

As he reflects on his journey, Ngwenya also advises young designers to never give up on their dreams. “No matter how difficult the circumstances of your parents and the community, you must never give up. You must always be willing to learn more and adopt new ideas. It’s dangerous to think you know everything.”

All photos supplied
You can follow Ntando on instagram: NtandoXV

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Cindy Mfabe, Mmuso Potsane, Siphosihle Masango, Angeline Mafemo, Ntando Ngwenya and Maxwell Boko were the strongest six David Tlale interns out of the nine.