Popular for his distinctive creative style under the sobriquet Slaying Goliath, David Tshabalala is arguably one of the most sought-after graphic designers and illustrators in South Africa right now. He garnered himself a fan base and following on social media subsequently to the success of the ‘Run The World’ insta-bition, for which he illustrated awe-aspiring women who are doing well in their respective fields.
Inspired by Beyonce’s song that uncoincidentally celebrates femininity, ‘Run the World’, the insta-bition (an exhibition that takes place on Instagram) happens every year during August — women’s month in South Africa, and forms part of Tshabalala’s succession of work which commentates our cultural zeitgeist. The Davetionary series — where he illustrates well known people into topical words (for example Caster Semenya becomes the ‘i’ in Nike) -has abducted the digital space, making it almost impossible for anyone to ignore his influence. However, there is more than meets the eye with this Johannesburg-based creative.
Tshabalala was born in Harrismith, a large town in the Free State, where he was groomed to be the creative he is today. His earliest memory of himself drawing was when he was in pre-school. He has come a long way since he graduated from design school in 2010. When he was 25 years old, he started his branding and design company Suketchi with his former boss, Sarah-Jane Boden.
Some of the accolades Tshabalala has collected in the last decade as a graphic designer, illustrator and part-owner of Suketchi include being nominated at the 2015 Bookmarks Awards in the Best Young Gun category, being chosen as an Emerging Creative at Design Indaba, and being featured on the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans list in 2015, and he still forges ahead as a game changer.
We speak to him about his businesses, the story behind his alias Slaying Goliath, and his future plans.
For someone who has never heard of you before, please introduce yourself and tell us what you do for a living?
My name is David Tshabalala, slash Slaying Goliath — the nickname comes from my Instagram handle. It is derived from the Biblical story where David slayed Goliath. At the very core I am a spiritual being and I find meaning in being able to overcome obstacles that are bigger than me, so it felt natural for me to go by the name Slaying Goliath.
I am a graphic designer and illustrator, I have a graphic design company called Suketchi, my partner is my previous boss, Sarah-Jane Boden from Soul Providers — my last place of employment. We are a small team, there’s literally four of us.
Your digital business Suketchi, and online persona Slaying Goliath are two different entities, but somehow you have managed to amalgamate the two worlds perfectly. Tell us about that.
Suketchi is literally my 9-5, if I wasn’t part-owner I would say that’s where I work. You’ll hardly see that work on my Instagram page though, and I think some people might even deem it boring, but every time I share my personal work under Slaying Goliath on social media, I try to drive people to my website, so they can follow the actual business.
Slaying Goliath is my personal brand, and the work is self-driven. The two worlds are not far apart from each other. If anything, I am trying to get Slaying Goliath to be more like Suketchi.
Is the approach for Suketchi different from Slaying Goliath? How do the two worlds influence each other?
No, the approach is the same because I’m the same person. The only difference with Suketchi is that it’s a business, so there are certain procedures that need to be followed. The two worlds are very close because it’s still design for clients.
You have mentioned that you see your fans and followers as clients, hence you are always conscious of the type of content you put out – as well as the fact that brands who might wish to work with you someday follow you on social media. Have you received business through your social media platforms?
Yeah, a lot. I have had someone from Canada wanting something designed, and I’d be like ‘but how am I going to ask you to pay me?’ They then suggested I use PayPal. This also ensures that clients know that I am a trusted business.
Speaking of PayPal, what were the reasons you chose it as your preferable payment method for cross border transactions?
I started using the service a year ago, it was quite easy to use and convenient. I have the app on my phone, which makes it easy to track as well. I used the service to also pay the people who worked on my website, they are from Cape Town, but moved to Sweden.
How do you plan on growing your businesses further?
A strong engine for growing my business globally, is actually through PayPal’s global network. It’s nice to know their service covers me from potential fraud on the one hand but also connects me with millions of global customers worldwide.
At face value, it might seem easy and doable, but the reality is; owning and running a business is no walk in the park. Why did you choose to start your own graphic design company, outside of Slaying Goliath?
I wanted the independence of owning my work without a middle man, which is the agency. I wanted to inspire other graphic designers to also strive for independence, and lastly, I wanted more sustained wealth which is possible by running your own company rather than having a set salary.
What has been your career highlight thus far?
My career highlight thus far would be the work we do for Viacom, BET Africa because I feel like that’s pretty huge for a company as young as Suketchi. 2018 was my biggest year and the momentum is going right into 2019.
I was also chosen to be a judge on the jury of the ADC (Art Directors Club) awards. I was one of four South Africans on the judging panel, and what stood out for me was the credibility of the people I was on the panel with. That helped me as a brand.
What’s your advice to other aspiring designers and illustrators?
Find your voice, find your style, and be consistent with it. Use social media creatively as well, it’s not just about putting out your work, but about how you do it.
Photos by Khotso Tsagaane
This interview and been edited and condensed.