PHOTOS | Winnie was ahead of time as fashion trendsetter

Sonwabile Ndamase credits the late Winnie Madikizela-Mandela for making traditional wear fashionable at gala dinners.

Ndamase, who met the Struggle stalwart in 1985 and has been her long-time designer, said Madikizela-Mandela turned around the SA fashion aesthetic.

"She made South African women believe in who they are and made traditional wear acceptable. It used to be black tie, tux and European dress codes, but she stood firm."

Ndamase said Madikizela-Mandela wanted to enhance the Mpondo look because it represented her roots.

"She was far away from home and needed to make Johannesburg her home. . She wanted to dress like her ancestors so that she can draw strength from that and it humbled her and gave her ubuntu," he said.

"When you wear European clothes you even change the tone of your voice. You forget your background and speak from the perspective of where you currently are."

Ndamase said the last dress he made for her was for the recent ANC conference in Johannesburg. "She called me with three days to go and asked me to create something for her. I went and painted the town red looking for fabric and beads.

"When her granddaughter Zoleka dressed her up, she said 'Sonwabile, you've done it again. This is why I love you and believe in you'."

Ndamase said he didn't see Madikizela-Mandela as a commercial venture.

"I never counted how many dresses I made for her. I always had mama at heart. I was honoured to dress her."

Ndamase has big plans for her fashion legacy.

"I've already spoken to the family and I asked them to keep her clothing, because it would be nice to create a museum of her clothes."