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Can fashion label preserve Mandela's legacy?

From Nkepile Mabuse, CNN
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Clothes brand uses Mandela's prison number
  • A new clothing line branded with Mandela's hand and prison number has been launched
  • It has the backing of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which will receive 7-9% revenue
  • Mandela's granddaughter worries the clothes may not encompass what Mandela stands for

Johannesburg (CNN) -- Nelson Mandela's former prison number is being used to brand a new clothing line -- but some are wondering if a fashion label can really represent what Mandela stands for.

The number 46664, which identified Mandela when he was imprisoned in 1964, is being used as the name of South Africa's newest fashion range. The clothes also carry an image of the anti-apartheid hero's hand.

The country's former president and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize has condemned the use of this name for commercial reasons in the past. But this latest venture has the blessing of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, which makes it their duty to protect Mandela's legacy.

If you didn't know the former leader's history, you'd have a hard time finding clues in the clothing.

At the recent launch of the brand the focus was on fashion and not the number on the label.

"We agreed first and foremost we needed to produce a globally competitive and relevant fashion brand," said Wayne Bebb, CEO of Brand ID, a division of Seardel, the South African company manufacturing the line of clothing.

To reach the new generation you have to use the methodology and the techniques that they understand.
--Achmat Dangor, CEO Nelson Mandela Foundation

While, for example, a pink dress might not say much about Mandela, Bebb says the clothes are a way for people to commit to an organization that supports his legacy.

For some it will be hard to see what fashion has to do with one of the world's greatest liberation heroes, but maybe that's the point.

"To reach the new generation you have to use the methodology and the techniques that they understand," said Achmat Dangor, chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Dangor says that every day the foundation turns down around 20 requests to license Mandela's name or image. The clothing line won't be able to use them either -- just the number and the image of his hand.

"We are aware of the risks and that's why it took us almost two years to negotiate a final contract, laying down absolute strict conditions about what they can do and what they can't do," Dangor added.

Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in 1964 for four counts of sabotage. He was only released after 27 years.

The clothing label's strongest connection to Mandela is its pledge to give 7 to 9% of revenue to his charities.

The bright, hip clothing line certainly has the potential to sell but with shirts costing around $100, some in Mandela's family wonder just how many South Africans will be able to afford the clothes.

"No doubt it is stylish, but my worry -- and I echo some of my cousins' worries -- is will it reach the other levels, will it be able to encompass what Mandela stands for?" said his granddaughter, Ndileka Mandela.

"Because Mandela does not stand for only the elite people, he stands for all people from all walks of life," she continued.

Perhaps the one opinion that truly matters is from the man himself, but his family say that he's not yet seen the line that takes its name from a number so crucial to his legacy.