Growing up in Southern-Africa means familiarity with the Leiteisi fabric which is A German print made mostly in blues or reds but lately in every color of the rainbow. The Rainbow nation was the catch phrase of the 1990s. We grew up in the 1980s in disbelief and fear of the South-Africa that told us that blacks and whites were different. That we deserved to live apart and that black people were the lesser of the two races. We grew up in the 1980s as little primary school children in Botswana writing essays about a great man who stood up for his people’s rights and suffered a life time prison sentence for what he believed. All through the 1980s we wondered why Africa was plagued with such injustice? We would visit South-Africa and stare in awe at the splendor and lavishness of Johanesburg. How could such a beautiful country hold such ugly injustices!
We grew up and attended high school at the UWC of Southern Africa. By this time Nelson Mandela was indeed a Free man. UWC was teaching us how to believe in justice, peace and saving the world. We were a mini United Nations with children from all over the world and finally I let myself believe in a hopeful future where race would not be an impediment to success.
Throughout these years I saw the traditional Southern-African garb changing. First it was simply the silhouettes that became more adventurous. Instead of just wrap skirts and a-line dresses we started having fabulous evening gowns. Then new colors started emerging, purples, yellows and greens. And finally my favorite kitsch yet stunning print came around- the Madiba print. Madiba had long been a fashion icon with his refusal to wear suits and his love for the smart button down Madiba shirt. At high school we even had Kwaito dances named after him. He was a firm fixture in our fashion and pop culture vocabulary. But this print was special because it imprinted him permanently in the textile of our culture. Creatives could take this raw material and remake it into their visions.
Yesterday, Nelson Mandela died? Yesterday was my son’s 6th birthday. My son is the lucky one. He is growing up in a time when the USA has an African American president who tells us all that YES WE CAN. A time when his heroes can actually resemble him, he will have strong African men who forever changed the course of history as his heroes and that makes him lucky and blessed.
Fashion is crying today, Africa is crying today, the World is crying today. We have lost a great man. Let us continue celebrating the message and all-embracing world view that Madiba lived for.
By the time I started NihonAfriq, my first fashion collective in Tokyo, I knew I wanted to do something with that iconic Madiba print. Here is what I came up with. It is the Madiba jacket.