Madiba shirt de­signer has de­vel­oped taste for suc­cess

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - NONI MOKATI

MOST crafts­men strive for per­fec­tion and this cer­tainly ap­plies to pro­lific de­signer Son­wa­bile Ndamase, the man who de­signed some of Madiba’s iconic and chic shirts.

So in tune with his craft is Ndamase that it’s been hard for his crit­ics to fault him.

“Like a cook tastes his food, I do the same with my fab­rics. I use my tongue to taste ev­ery piece of cloth. It’s my way of en­sur­ing what my cus­tomers wear is gen­uine. Ev­ery seam, stitch and pat­tern has to be per­fect,” he said this week as he pre­pared for the 21st Vukani! Fash­ion Awards and ex­hi­bi­tion in Gaut­eng from Mon­day to Fri­day.

The theme is “The en­light­ened ones: guardians of ubuntu”.

The awards, which Ndamase es­tab­lished at the dawn of democ­racy, pro­vide an an­nual plat­form for as­pir­ing de­sign­ers to show­case their tal­ent.

It has been the launch­pad for such sea­soned de­sign­ers as Mthatha and David Tlale, as well as up-and-com­ing stars like Mosa Mokuena.

Ndamase grew up with nee­dles, thread and a sewing ma­chine in Li­bode, near Mthatha in the East­ern Cape.

“uMama (my mother) was a seam­stress. I watched her all the time. I was al­ways the one hold­ing a nee­dle and thread, mend­ing my broth­ers’ pants and my sis­ter’s dresses.”

Ndamase ac­knowl­edges it was awk­ward for a Xhosa boy, who was ex­pected to be herd­ing cows, to be fix­ing clothes. He was called a “sissy”. But the awk­ward­ness, the crit­i­cism and the rib­bing helped keep him re­silient.

It was, of course, a ca­reer high­light when he was asked to cre­ate shirts for Man­dela. He was well es­tab­lished and de­sign­ing clothes for Man­dela’s daugh­ter Zindzi and for­mer wife Win­nie Madik­izela-Man­dela.

“The Madiba shirt con­cept was in­flu­enced by Tata’s history. It was thought he needed some­thing that could flow with his body and which was chic and Afro­cen­tric, some­thing that blended with the whole world.”

Ndamase said he laughed when­ever he re­called his re­ac­tion when asked to make his first shirt for Man­dela. “I felt like a kid in a candy store… it has been heart­warm­ing to know that through­out the years that I made shirts for Tata he em­braced ev­ery­thing I pre­sented to him.”

Ndamase is en­cour­aged when young peo­ple in­cor­po­rate African prints in their ev­ery­day fash­ion. “We are not there yet (in terms of African de­sign) but there is ef­fort and I be­lieve we will get there.”

His ad­vice for as­pir­ing de­sign­ers was: “Be your­self. I tell peo­ple never to do some­thing to please other peo­ple. You work twice as hard if you fo­cus on your­self rather than on what other peo­ple want.”


HARD AT WORK: Son­wa­bile Ndamase with one of his shirts at his home in Kew, Joburg.

DE­SIGNER: Ndamase with Nel­son Man­dela.

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