SAfrica’s Mandela Foundation Gets into Fashion

FashionPreppy meets philanthropy in a new international clothing line being launched by Nelson Mandela’s foundation.

The 46664 Apparel line, named after Mandela’s inmate number at Robben Island Prison, features colorful clothing that is supposed to make wearers look good on the outside ? and feel good inside.

Profits from Mandela’s project will help sustain the foundation’s charitable gifts, while boosting South Africa’s troubled textile and clothing industry, officials said at a news conference at the Nelson Mandela Foundation on Wednesday.

With the launch, the foundation joins a small but growing club of socially conscious sartorialists, such as Edun, a line founded by Bono and his wife in an effort to bring a steady, sustainable manufacturing industry to Africa.

The 46664 line features brightly colored men’s sportswear and intricately patterned, African-influenced women’s wear, all designed by Seardel, South Africa’s biggest textile and clothing manufacturer.

Mandela was the 466th prisoner at Robben Island, a wind-swept penal colony in the Atlantic off Cape Town, in 1964. The anti-apartheid icon spent 27 years in prisons for fighting white rule. He became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, winning office in all-race elections that spelled the end of apartheid.

Golf shirts and jerseys carry a small embroidered upheld palm symbolizing Mandela’s hand and alluding to his challenge at the 46664 London concert in 2008 for “new hands be found to lift the burden.”

“You are not just investing in a piece of apparel … you also are investing in a plan that will continue to spread that humanitarian legacy” of Mandela, said foundation board member Achmat Dangor.

He said the 46664 campaign has evolved since its start to raise global awareness and prevention of HIV and AIDS to “confronting and inspiring action to address the broader social injustices in our society.”

Seardel CEO Stuart Queen pointed to special touches in the clothing ? colorful African shweshwe cloth discreetly lining the waistband of a pair of pants and chinos closed by two brass buttons and one red button, all branded with 46664.

“Everywhere you look, there’s a surprise,” Queen told journalists.

But many South Africans will not be able to afford the clothing. When the brand is launched in South Africa in August, a T-shirt will cost about 180 rand ($26). A man’s collared shirt runs about 600 rand ($86). A quarter of South Africa’s work force is unemployed. The minimum monthly wage for a farm worker is 1,300 rand (less than $200).

The clothing will be sold at the group’s own store, to be opened August in downtown Johannesburg, as well as at upmarket Stuttafords department stores. It also will be available online. Next year, Dangor said, the line will launch internationally, probably in Britain and the United States.

Dangor said Seardel paid the foundation a royalty of 1 million rand (about $143,000) and the foundation will get a share starting at 7 percent of annual turnover rising to 9 percent.

The money will help the foundation’s sustainability, Dangor said, describing how last year it had been forced to stop supporting development agencies in Ghana, Tanzania and Mozambique. Funds raised from Mandela Day and other 46664 events also have funded the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.

Campaigns manager Ruth Rensburg said profits from the clothes line will help 46664 in its transformation to a “development agency” distributing funds for select projects that reflect Mandela’s humanitarian legacy and ethos.

He said Mandela’s image will not appear on any of the clothing ? a commercialization some find distasteful.

Mandela has fought law suits to prevent his name being used for commercial gain. His lawyers in 2005 confronted a clothing company that applied to register Mandela’s prison number, preventing it from doing so.

A more recent controversy erupted last year when Mandela’s family, including eldest daughter Makaziwe and grandson Mandla, launched House of Mandela wines. Many were outraged but Mandela gave the commercial project his blessing.

Source: The Associated Press.