Machinist Joyce Alexander with Andr� Martin at his Mount Edgecombe factory for the Life label. Picture: Doctor Ngcobo

Since he last did a fashion show, André Martin got married, had a child, waged a war against serious illness within his family and like many local businesses of late, battled financial setbacks.

As he would say, that’s “life” – an ideology in itself and one that was what first inspired the iconic Life brand.

Years later, perhaps wiser but clearly with a different perspective on life, Martin says he is ready to take the brand to the next level.

At present, he is probably the only local menswear designer with his own retail space in Durban.

He has stores in Gateway and Pavilion.

The success of his street-wear brand – mostly heavily washed denims, knits and woven stretch and non-stretch twills – is the niche audience it has acquired.

When you consider that these are just jeans, jackets and shirts – albeit well-constructed, good quality garments – it’s phenomenal that the brand survives in such a cut- throat market.

“We’ve never competed on price,” says Martin in relation to competition from chain stores.

“We have a different business model. We’ve created an exclusive market and ensure we listen closely to the customer to keep them happy.”

He agrees that there is a need to diversify, but says that up until now, “what you see is what sells”.

“In the same way, we never overcrowd the store; it’s a designer label, we have a clear idea of the image we want to project.”

Martin says YDE originator Paul Simon played a big role in how he positioned the brand.

“When I began designing for YDE I would make 15 of one item. It was flying off the rails and I had a decision to make.

“Paul Simon sat me down one day and asked: “Do you want to be a couturier or a retailer?”

As much as I wanted to be a couturier, I agreed with Simon – I had to be a retailer first, build my revenue and then pursue the dream.”

That decision has informed Martin’s business practice and, when speaking to him, you get the feeling that the dream is exactly where he is headed.

He recently launched a men’s formal wear collection, interpreted through the Life paradigm of bright, bold and edgy and including include checks, florals and – even more surprising – skinnies and low crotches.

The move marks his foray into the custom-made industry. More of which is likely to be seen at the Vodacom Durban July, where he is an invited designer and will dress a celeb or two.

Having presented ready to wear garments at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Durban recently, Martin says at African Fashion International in October he wants to show his full capability.

With the brand being versatile enough to produce garments in quantity, while also being able to cater to individual clients, he hopes to tap into African markets such as Angola and Nigeria.

He has much reverence for the trade.

“I think you have to have experience before you can promise an individual a high quality garment. It’s not just about your work, but practicalities such as how the garment will dry clean.

“Essentially there is a huge responsibility in the custom-making industry,” he says.

One he is ready for.

A studio in Joburg, primarily to access private collections, and an on-line store are on the cards for later this year.

Another exciting venture he is toying with is a children’s wear collection – no doubt inspired by his two-year-old son, Cole.

With so much on the go, Martin, who is the first to admit that life can be tough, is appearing to be a whole lot tougher. - The Mercury