Madiba made style statements with his shirts. Picture: Instagram
In a world where leaders rarely stray from an accepted uniform, no matter where they live in dark suit, white or blue shirt, blue tie Mandela stood out in his colourful batik shirts. Brightly coloured, vividly patterned and long, the shirts were worn by Mandela with pants, often, a couple of pens in his pocket. They came in many patterns include a fish design, flowers and birds.

The origin of the 'Madiba Shirt' first came about when he was give batik print shirts by Indonesia’s President Suharto in 1990 and then later in 1994, the designer Desre Buirski gave a gift of a hand-printed batik shirt to Nelson Mandela and she along with designer Sonwabile Ndamase became Madiba's supplier of the Madiba shirt.

The 'Madiba Shirt' actually symbolized more than just mere patterned shirt worn by a head of state but actually it was a way Mandela used even his clothing as a way to exhibit himself as a true man of the people and the shirts. Mandela demonstrated how clothes can be a strategic expression of individuality, even for a politician and actually in turn advertising his independence from what went before. In 1996 on a visit to the England and to meet with the Queen, he reportedly turned down an Armani suit and wore one of his favourite shirts instead. Talk about being 'woke' before we gave the word its current definition.


The Madiba shirt has influenced may African designers and eve influenced the design style of the 46664 clothing brand as well as brands like the Presidential which sells Madiba shirts at OR Tambo International  and Waqwetu which is a Tanzanian fashion label.