Umembeso Dress by Mantsho Most of people confuse the term Fashion Designer with a Tailor. The reason may simply be because they both use the same tools and the end product is the "same" garment. However, there is huge difference in how they work.

A fashion designer is the creative mind behind any clothing item, whether it's your high fashion runway garment or a simple summer dress or tee shirt.  The designer will conduct research, develop a concept and vision for the type of person they would like to dress, create a visual image of their concept through sketches and oversee the overall design and production processes that bring their sketches or designs to life. He works with a strong team of skilled people to assist him in the construction of his idea into a wearable or better still physical garment.

In simple terms, the fashion designer is the architect and the tailor is the builder.

Designers draw inspiration from different themes to create new ideas. Most of us have seen how the Tailor works, but not many are aware how a Fashion Designer does lot of planning and follows a specific process to produce the final garment.

Shweshwe Dress Designed by Mantsho

So it is important to note that tailors and designers are not the same:

Tailors Vs Designers

Tailors Fashion Designers

A tailor follows a fixed pattern to do the same traditional work for decades. Nothing new is done except in few cases. He directly takes the measurements and works on the design given by the customer. He does not plan or create

A fashion designer needs planning. He needs to think more and work less. He has more paperwork than physical work.


Generally tailors do not create new designs. They will use the same designs from a standard catalogue or a magazine usually supplied by their clients

Fashion designers will create designs from scratch; will be innovative in their approach and seek inspiration from unrelated sources or purely from imagination
Some tailors may be aware of current or past trends based on experience, but will not have little knowledge about future trends.

The fashion designer has a thorough understanding of global trends and will have a good sense of what will work in the local market in the near future. May even be involved in changing the future trends through their designs

 A tailor focuses on individual clients’ satisfaction.

Is good at interpreting designs supplied to them.

Designers focus on novelty, themes, patterns, designs & inspiration; not so much on individual clients’ desires. Is good at dreaming up new designs
Will take anywhere from 2-3 days to a week for the final apparel to be ready Typically takes long process & takes more than a month to come up with something new or unique. Usually designs are introduced seasonaly.

–          Undertakes repairs, alteration & such minor changes.


–          Does not carryout any repairs, alterations & the like.



–          Entertains walk-in individual clients –          More focussed on the collection rather than walk-in individual clients. If he has to seel clients, works strictly by appointment.
–          Need not have a brand or label –          Has a distinct label or brand under which all creations are marketed.
–          Has to be an expert in almost all practical aspects of cutting and stitching, otherwise clients will not be happy.


–          Basic understanding of practical aspects is sufficient but not necessary or even a pre-requisite. Of course, they would have studied it formally, but need not be a hands-on expert.


So our local tailors, some call themselves designers, what do we call them?

I wouldn't worry much about what to call them, perhaps the most important question to ask is what do you require? Is it a never been seen before wedding dress, a Matric Dance dress or an outfit for Durban July? Then you need to see a fashion designer.

If you require a basic tailored suit or dress, then you need to find a good tailor.

To find out whether your local "sewer" is a tailor or designer, you can ask a few questions, with guidance from the above table:

Do they create garments from scratch? You may also ask them for a few samples of their work.


Is it legal to copy some designers' work and take it to a tailor?

A lot of people nowadays get inspiration online on Pinterest and sometimes in magazines. When they find a design they like, they will take it to a tailor to emulate. The common risk here is not getting exactly what you asked for after all this is not the same guy who made the garment in the picture.

To answer the question of whether it's legal to copy a design, I don't suppose it is but many people are doing it and I'm not sure if much can be done about that. A good way for designers to get more for their creations is to register in local directories and let people know where to find the original garments. Sometimes its only out of desperation when customers take pictures to tailors, they don't always know where to find the original creator. We have created a directory to assist our users in finding designers, tailors and to help them make an informed decision before engaging them for the dress requirements.