Fashion designers tend to fly under the radar unless they have international fame and glory. Some of the best designers in the world are unknown to the Average Joe. Kreol brings you Sibu Dladla, a South African fashion designer, model and founder of Jaded Life (JL) brand and label.

There are few industries in today’s global economy that are tougher to survive in than fashion. Designers are, to a certain extent, a dime a dozen. There are countless individuals out there trying to become the next Dolce & Gabbana, or some other powerhouse fashion designer. When the focus becomes so narrow and the world looks only for the best of the best, it overlooks the true talents that exist in all corners of the globe.

Fashion design is a tricky environment to succeed in. In order to come out on top, you have to deliver unique and creative designs that are different from the rest, but not so whacky that people fail to see the beauty of your creation, as you have envisioned it in your own mind. This is a tightrope routine that few can master, but Sibu has managed to perfect this balancing act over the course of an impressive career.

Fashion DNA

The phrase “I guess it’s in my DNA” is heard a lot when an artist or athlete comes from a family of successful people. Sibu hails from three generations of designers who used little more than a keen eye for style and the ability to take concepts from dream to reality. His aunt and both his grandparents were fashion designers before him, and while he admits they weren’t internationally known, they had a knack for picking up materials and creating amazing things straight from their minds.

Sibu believes his ability comes from his family genetics because they all view fashion as a spiritual facet of life. For him, it was his holistic experience in the world of fashion that helped shape his design ideas and enhance his ability to create styles that resonated with people.

“I actually I tend to revert back to the past…spiritual designers, you have a holistic understanding of the figure or person you are looking for. And I think its a key essential to know what you really want the person to look like at the end of the day. Being in front of the camera, being behind the camera, being on the sidelines, working at fashion, make-up and hair has, enhanced the whole experience for me.”

From Doodler to Designer

Behind many artists, there is a great story about how they got their big break. While Sibu’s talent may have been ingrained in his DNA, it was nurtured on the pages of his notebooks in school. He started expressing his talent for design during maths and science classes in school. Not particularly interested in the lessons at hand, Sibu picked up his pencil and began to sketch figures of famous models on the pages. From time to time, he reverts to this approach in the hope of finding inspiration for his next designer line.

Sibu eventually turned to his own figure for inspiration when it came to fashion. As a young man, he designed a sleeveless top that was less than popular with his mother. The first garment he ever physically created (not on a page), the top was made of leather and immediately drew the ire of his mother who told him, “You’re not going out dressed like that!”

Sibu Dladla. Photo: Kassie Bloom

Sibu Dladla. Photo: Kassie Bloom

From there on, Sibu continued creating clothes to suit himself and used them as an expression of his talent. Frustrated by a tall, slender frame, Sibu started tailoring his own jeans to get a better fit for his shape. He admits that the design drew odd looks at first, but he points out that now in 2015, everyone is wearing tapered jeans.

Home-grown Talent

While many fashion designers fight their way through fashion schools and toil away in a fashion house as interns, Sibu didn’t have much in the way of a formal education in fashion design. After completing high school, a modelling contract nearly derailed his education entirely. Out of respect for his parent’s views on the importance of education, Sibu did finish one year of studies to earn a diploma.

Modelling was an early focus of attention for Sibu. Participating in his first advertisements as a high school student, he became instantly popular at home. He landed a series on Fashion TV in South Africa, where he became one of the first black faces to appear in a television ad promoting Volkswagen Beetle automobiles. For a time, he was stuck between the world of a student and a model, having to leave events by 11 p.m. because it was a school night.
Then, by chance, his model career intersected with an opportunity to break into fashion:

“The designing and modelling were two separate things. The modelling was something I was really wanting to be a part of, but then it just so happened there was this person who scouted me and my agency was like ‘oh, by the way you met this guy who scouted you on the beach…well, then 3 months later I was in Paris. Unfortunately it cut off schooling because you have a choice, finish school or chase this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I was so humbled to have worked with incredible designers.”

Most Exciting Journey

The world of fashion can take a designer around the globe and present them with many challenges. For some, it is difficult to identify a single challenge. For Sibu, the most exciting journey of his life was simply leaving home. Home represents a comfort zone, a place where you have a warm and friendly environment. Leaving that shelter can be difficult, and Sibu saw it as both his most exciting journey and his biggest personal challenge.

Growing up in Africa, he was accustomed to warm climates and friendly people. He found it drastically different travelling the world and visiting locations across Europe. The enough-is-never-enough mentality of the people stood in stark contrast to what he was accustomed to, but he adapted and learned to succeed.

Biggest Challenge

Although traveling outside his comfort zone was a big personal challenge, he views menswear as his greatest professional challenge. While designing fashions for women offers a lot of flexibility to create in different realms, menswear focuses on three main pieces: shirts, trousers, and jackets. Given his response to a question about the difficulty of menswear, he seems to relish the opportunity to tackle this area of fashion design.

“I think that’s where the challenge lies, absolutely. I think deconstructive and reconstructive and I believe thinking laterally, is very important when it comes to menswear, you know, we are so boxed in, but we need to understand that that box can be moulded in a different way. I mean I know, of course, we’re not going to expect guys to all of a sudden wear togas and go back to a centurion sort of fashion, it’s just simply not practical because we’re constantly moving with the lifestyle. You know things have to correlate to your life and I do believe that for me that’s where the challenge lies.”

Looking Forward

The key to success is never settling for what you have now, but striving for more in the future. Sibu envisions a future where his designs are available in boutique shops across South Africa, and even in Seychelles. In an ideal world, he’d love to have flagship stores in the major fashion centres of the world (New York, London, LA, and expand into areas such as Dubai and China.

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