Mandela Day: Meet the man behind the Madiba shirt

 

Nelson Mandela will never go out of style. His commitment to forgiveness, acceptance of difference and warm embrace of individuality is a legacy that the world will always cherish.

Mandela’s dream for South Africa existed in his actions, words, and yes, his look. The Madiba shirt symbolised the great president’s alignment to the message he preached. Bold. Unique. And unapologetically African. The patterns he donned reflected his vision. But who was the man behind the shirt?

Sonwabile Ndamase embarked on his journey with fashion a decade before meeting Mandela. Having opted for the academic route towards his chosen career, Ndamase chafed against the Westernised curriculum offered at university. He was South African, and his work would represent his people. Ndamase completed his courses, but remained focused on celebrating African cultures through fashion. His efforts were recognised and respected by the Mandela family, who invited him to their home when Madiba was released. The inspirational leader required an inspired wardrobe. Ndamase was commissioned.

“Mandela took a chance with me and that changed my life,” says Ndamase. The iconic statesman’s needs were simple: his clothes should be cool and comfortable, but most of all, African. Ndamase’s shirts were a hit with the late president, and his people. Now they’re as much a reminder of our beloved hero as the Madiba jive, bringing to mind his unshakable belief in the goodness of people and his willingness to trust them, as he did Ndamase. For the now-seasoned designer, the future is about mentoring South Africa’s future design ambassadors and giving them every opportunity to excel.