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Madiba Swagger

by Nolan Stevens / 28.04.2011

Word on the street is that everyone and their grandmother will be getting all “Madiba’d up” soon… Yes my friends Nelson Mandela’s 46664 charity has recently announced that it will be releasing a special clothing brand. You can now fashionably rock Tata’s global icon vibe.

I know what you’re thinking; there’s only one man alive who can get away with wearing those loud shirts. Those shirts only look “acceptable” when the old man wears them, right? Well let me put your mind at ease, I had a sneak peek at the range last week and it’s actually quite funky. And when you buy a 46664 fitted T-shirt, you are not just buying apparel; you are investing in a process that will help spread the legacy of Nelson Mandela by supporting the long-term sustainability 46664. At least that’s what the bigwigs behind the 46664 brand want us to believe. As the acclaimed writer and CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Achmat Dangor put it: “The charity needs reliable and sustainable income streams, something they believe the 46664 Apparel can significantly contribute to.” He said the NGO could no longer depend on philanthropy to create awareness and fund projects like Nelson Mandela Day. Props for being straight up and saying that they need the money. He then quickly added that buyers will be empowering young people in communities and creating, “a platform for global change”.

Mandela Clothing Range

But rocking Nelson Mandela’s revolutionary steez, as a consumer fashion brand, creates more questions than it answers. Like should South Africa’s greatest living icon, the figurehead of a principled revolutionary movement, be reduced to a clothing line? Fashion being one of the major instruments of rampant consumerism.

One of the first thoughts I had when I first got wind of this clothing range was, is this going to be like those Ché Guevara tees that are worn, mostly, by people who don’t even know who the man was, or what he stood for? Or is this gonna be like wearing a Biko tee and feeling like now you suddenly have some kind of black consciousness political street cred? Is this the beginning of the dumbing down of Madiba’s legacy, into consumable bite-sized chunks of merchandise. Are we going to see Madiba lunchboxes soon. Robben Island revolutionary trump cards, yo-yos?

Frankly, I told myself that if the gear isn’t dope, I ain’t wearing it. Finish ‘n klaar.

And it seems they’ve given these issues some thought and are attempting to traverse a kind of tight rope between commercialism and the preservation of Madiba’s image. Tata’s face will not appear on any of the clothing, instead his hand print will be used as the logo. The clothing range features modern, tailored business and casual pieces that fuse European design with an African flair. To my surprise, the gear is actually quite dope, but I wonder who will wear it? Are they going to pitch it to the elite or the masses? Most likely it’ll end up alongside other shmaltzy “rainbow nation products” donned like facepaint when the Bulls play rugby in Soweto. We’re not racist, we rock Madiba wear.

Mandela Clothing Range

But maybe I’m just being cynical. This clothing range is the only global brand that has a direct association with an organisation like 46664. And if it supports things like the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund, then it can’t be that bad, regardless of how tasteless it seems. Secondly, it’s not nasty, cheesy shit. It’s a well thought through and professionally designed range that can hold its own internationally. So maybe, just maybe, this’ll help continue the good work of our most famous founding father.

The clothing range gets launched locally in August at a stand alone concept store in Johannesburg, and then it will be distributed through Stuttafords stores. Merchandise will also be available online.

Which kind of answers my earlier question about who this range is being pitched towards, the elite or the masses. Who do you think will be wearing this gear? Ekasi don’t regularly shop at Stuttafords? The 46664 organisation says it will be reasonably priced. I guess time will tell.

Nelson Mandela Clothing Range

*All images © Nolan Stevens.

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