Fashion runs in his veins and he has dressed the who’s who of the South African elite, yet he has always stood for the ordinary man.
Sonwabile Ndamase is an innovator, creative thinker and visionary. He is a sought-after trend analyst and while his feet remain firmly planted on African soil, he uses a global perspective to source new ideas, gauge the zeitgeist and identify cutting edge trends.
Encouraged by a mother who loved sewing, Ndamase and his siblings were taught to be all-rounders at home.
After studying fashion in Johannesburg, Ndamase went on to study the commercial side of the clothing business in Sweden and the USA; this retail background gave him a thorough understanding of the realities of the fashion market. In 1994, he founded and established Vukani Fashion Awards to unearth undiscovered South African fashion design talent.
“This is an export industry which can earn large sums in foreign currency for South Africa but it is fuelled by fashion influences that dictate how we should look and what we should wear,” he says today, with more than 29 years in the sector under his belt.
“New colours and styles constantly create a desire for new clothes, especially among young and fashion-conscious people but as I am a South African, I felt passionate about improving the indigenous fashion in our country.”
And Ndamase, who is a Play Your Part Ambassador, walks the talk. He was recently asked to design a uniquely South African garment for Miss Earth South Africa.
MAKING A FASHION STATEMENT WITH MADIBA
Of all of Ndamase’s clients Nelson Mandela was the one who gave his creations a worldwide appeal.
In 1990, Ndamase launched what was to prove one of his most important associations – designing the Madiba Shirts for the country’s future president.
“The decision to make a style statement was one Nelson Mandela made on his own,” the designer says. “He wanted to identify with the people. The majority of South Africans never wore suits, so he wanted to have a specific kind of shirt made – cut long so it could hang over trousers, both coloured and plain, with the conventional pointed collar as well as the standing Nehru.
“As always, Madiba wanted to do things his own way.”
The Vukani Awards are an African fashion showcase held over a week. It is not only an exhibition, but also an information-sharing forum for designers, manufacturers, weavers and others in the clothing industry.
The 21st edition of the awards took place during November.
Guests on the evening included Metro FM talk show host Criselda Kananda, former model and actress Nakedi Ribane and Gauteng MEC for infrastructure Nandi Mayathula-Khoza, who was a key speaker at the event.
The High Fashion Award went to Mmaphefo Dibetso. The award for Most Innovative Designer was presented to Simo Matomela while Zamaswazi Sithole took home the Best Ready to Wear award.
Recipients in each category received generous financial support with the overall winner Zamaswazi Sithole taking R40 000; Simo Matomela and Mmaphefo Dibetso received R20 000 each.
The winners will also be enrolled in a six-month mentorship programme to the value of R35 000 with Vukani Range Creations.
“Fashion creates dreams and makes them happen,” Ndamase says. “We are thrilled to see platforms such as the annual Vukani Fashion Awards act as a tool that offers opportunities to support the South African fashion community.”
Previous winners have participated in Mozambique, Swaziland, Cape Town, Joburg and Durban fashion weeks to rave reviews. Some have gone so far as to have their ranges featured at the London, New York and Paris fashion weeks.
Each year, 12 or more designers are selected and tasked with designing garments along a theme.
The three prize categories are Most Innovative Designer, Designer Collection, and High Fashion / National Costume. They have presented mixed results. Some designs tend towards folklore or patriotism, while other designers have gone on to establish themselves and service a clientele that is hungry for a local identity.
Besides Mandela, Ndamase’s client base includes King Letsie III of Lesotho; Bill Clinton, the former American; President Jacob Zuma; American musician Quincy Jones; and South African businessman Saki Macozoma.