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The yearlong effort of the Nelson Mandela Foundation to advance volunteerism and philanthropy through fashion now has a North American partner.
Dallas-based Company B US Inc. has been granted rights as the exclusive sublicensee for women’s, men’s and children’s apparel marketed under the 46664 Fashion brand in the U.S. and Canada. The collection, introduced in South Africa last year, will launch at 46664fashion.com on July 18, Mandela’s 94th birthday, with initial distribution at retail expected for holiday.
The Brand ID division of South Africa’s Seardel holds the master license for apparel from the Nelson Mandela Foundation and manufactures and markets the brand in South Africa and adjacent markets. Similar deals are in the works for Europe, South America and other African markets.
The number 46664 was Mandela’s ID during the years he spent in South Africa’s Robben Island prison on charges of treason stemming from his efforts to fight apartheid in his country. The brand, established as a nonprofit group in 2002, was initially focused on raising funds for and awareness of the fight against HIV/AIDS, principally through concerts.
Aaron Patton, chief executive officer of Company B, told WWD, “This isn’t a commemorative line of T-shirts and accessories with Mr. Mandela’s likeness on them. His name and likeness don’t appear and the foundation is extremely guarded about their use.”
However, “46664” does appear on numerous pieces, as does one quote often attributed to the South African leader: “It’s in our hands.”
Proceeds generated so far by the South African licensing arrangement have benefited Mandela Day Library Project, which promotes literacy in South Africa, and the venture itself seeks to promote development of the apparel and textile industries of South Africa, where most of the apparel is manufactured. Company B will pay a 10 percent royalty on its sales that go back to the foundation. Patton, a self-described “social entrepreneur,” said his company derives its name from its pursuit of the new “B” certification being sought by corporations from the nonprofit organization B Lab, which can demonstrate their commitment to employees, community and the environment as well as profit.
Last year, Mandela’s foundation took in 64.1 million South African rand, or $8.9 million at average exchange for the period, and had offsetting expenses of 49.8 million rand, or $6.9 million. Of the expenses, 41.1 million rand, or $5.7 million, were for philanthropic projects, and the remainder for operating expenses, according to public documents audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Wayne Bebb, ceo of Brand ID, noted that about 40 percent of production is coming out of South Africa, a figure expected to rise to 50 percent by the end of the year. North American product will piggyback on the South African manufacturing, with supplements to the assortment as needed. The collection includes jeans, trousers, knitwear, knit and woven tops and coats and jackets for both sexes as well as dresses, skirts, blouses and leggings for women.
“The designers are very much in tune to the vibrant nature of South Africa, whether it’s bright colors or a shweshwe print,” Patton said. “We’ll also leverage opportunities that reflect local market preferences here. We’re not initially setting up our own product, but we do have the right to do so when we can seize opportunities that are unique to the U.S. and Canada.”
Patton is a veteran of Nike Inc., where he was among those involved in the launch of its Michael Jordan collection, and he oversaw the merchandising and marketing of Starbury at the now-defunct Steve & Barry’s.