Page last updated at 07:34 GMT, Saturday, 23 January 2010

ANC leather rebranding 'fashion faux-pas'

Some of the jackets
Take your pick...

By Pumza Fihlani
BBC News, Johannesburg

South Africa's ruling African National Congress is leaving no stone unturned in its efforts to inspire a sense of "identity" in its members. Its latest venture? A range of leather jackets which fashion experts say should have never seen the light of day.

The ANC colours of black, green and gold form the basis of the collection of 19 jackets for men and women. But the green and gold elements have been taken to neon extremes, which look as though they would glow in the dark.

I wouldn't be caught dead in them. Its all just looks like patchwork
Fashion designer Thula Sindi

The embellishments include electric green patches for pockets, glowing buttons, neon yellow zips, all topped off with the party's logo of a wheel, spear and shield.

One design has been described as dayglo snakeskin, one resembles a military band-leader - in bright yellow - while one is shaped like a school blazer.

Despite the variety and the unquestioned effort, local fashion experts are not at all sold on the new-look ANC.

'Cheap fabric'

Popular fashion designer Thula Sindi says the jackets have a "members' only feel" and are only suitable for "much older people".

"I wouldn't be caught dead in them. Its all just looks like patchwork," he says.

Jacob Zuma in President No 1 in April 2009
Jacob Zuma blazed the trail in the 2009 ANC election victory party

"I don't think anybody younger than 40 would wear that, out of fear of being ridiculed."

He admits though that merchandising is rarely fashionable.

"For what it is, they are OK. I still wouldn't be caught dead in one."

The cheapest of the jackets made from "genuine leather" costs 1,620 rand ($217; £133) while the most expensive will set an avid ANC supporter back by 1,944 rand ($267; £164).

Bongiwe Khumalo, a fashion and lifestyle writer for the Sowetan newspaper says the prices may be too steep for most ANC supporters - a majority of whom are poor.

She adds that the "over-use" of colour does nothing for their quality.

"They failed to use colour wisely. This makes the jackets look like they are made from cheap fabric... If something costs an arm and a leg then it must be worth every cent I spend on it," she says.

Comrade Spock?

Thebe Mabanga, parliamentary correspondent for the Financial Times magazine, is less scathing.

"The presidential design is brilliant," he says.

But even he adds that one "looks like something from Star Trek".

We are satisfied with the turnover. We receive daily inquiries
Daryl Swanepoel
ANC's Progressive Business Forum

He also notes that many South African politicians already have a sharp sense of style and so maybe don't need such outlandish creations to make a statement.

Leather jackets have always been popular among black South Africans - a sign of style and accomplishment, however minor.

This is especially true of ANC members, known as "comrades" as this is the favoured term of address among party officials.

Jokes would be made about how you know someone is a "comrade" when they show up in a leather jacket whatever the weather or event.

The ANC's marketing team says the jackets will promote a sense of "identity" in party members.

The jackets are manufactured by a Durban-based company which is affiliated to the ANC's Progressive Business Forum - an organisation that provides a link between the ANC and businesses.

The range has only been launched this week but the forum's Daryl Swanepoel says he is happy with the level of sales so far, without giving details.

"We are satisfied with the turnover. We receive daily inquiries," he says, reports news website, News24.

Thanks to the President No 1 jacket, supporters of Jacob Zuma can now also dress like him.

South Africans first caught a glimpse of the President No 1 in Johannesburg at the ANC's victory party after the 2009 elections.

Surprisingly for some, this is the most modest of the jackets, with just some cream and olive green stripes.

A perfect fit perhaps for the president?

A man widely touted as "humble" and "the president of the poor".

But at the current price, Mr Zuma's poor may have to settle for the usual branded caps and T-shirts.

Thanks for your comments. Please read a selection below:

Come on stop messing around with tasteless jackets and get on with the job......remember? crime, jobs, houses......service delivery?
Chris Hickman, Port Elizabeth

I just ordered one, it should go great with my three wolf moon t-shirt!
Alex, Kitchener, Canada

Considering the oftentimes bizarre nature of the fashion world, these eyesores do not seem so out of place. Then again, it isn't surprising that what the fashion world considers cutting edge is seldom worn on the streets. Personally, I wouldn't be caught dead wearing one of these jackets... nor would I desire my corpse to be shackled by one in the grave. LW of Gold Beach states it best: "cruel and unusual punishment!"
Al Thompson, Fayetteville, Arkansas, USA

The band-leader jacket looks a lot like the one John Lennon wore on the cover of the Sgt. Peppers.
A M, Maryland, USA

I must say...they are certainly interesting but I don't think they make quite the cut. I've always considered us South Africans to be fashionable but this is really shattering my opinion.

ANC, I like the enthusiasm, but seriously. Next time design something a little more subtle and affordable.

That's the greatest stupidity of it all. The majority of your members are poor and you go and design something this expensive for them? ANC officials might be able to buy this with taxpayers' money but the rest not. Use the money on something such as the problem with the criminal activity in South Africa.
Nadia, Cape Town, South Africa

I am just disappointed that there are no matching leather pants in the same colours to complete the "ensemble".
Lionel Wood, Cape Town, South Africa

I would laugh my socks off if these became fashionable - because we are too conservative about clothes - we speak about being individuals and individual freedoms so why not with clothing - not your style - then perhaps its someone else's.

That said, its good to have negative comments - a breath of fresh air.
bertram somme, Molde Norway

The neon green one would be perfect for cycling at night - no one would miss you.
lungile , copenhagen

I could see these on the staff of a sci-fi theme cruise ship. Brilliant!
K E, Palm Desert, California

Compulsory uniform for all politicians I'd say.

Then we can see them coming on their campaign trail and either have time to avoid them /prepare awkward questions etc.

Certainly wearing one of those would suggest real commitment...
Colin Watts, Edenbridge, UK

Finally something original and bold--thank you South Africa for daring to be different and not just mimicking what is already out there in Europe etc.
Lynn C., Kampala, Uganda

If they were not ANC party accessories, one could easily see these being quite fashionable in kitch areas of London etc. I think they are actually really quite amazing and really alternative. I like!
Peter Nicholls, Stoke

I think it's a good effort to be both nationalistic and non-conformist. By creating these patriotic jackets it would appeal to the people's ethos to buy them and hence generate some economic development. However, simultaneously, the colour schemes and patterns need serious revision.
Rohan Lewis, Chicago, United States of America

No, don't titter......they are absolutely cutting a scarecrows fashion world!
Crystal Ball, Warsaw, Poland

The one in the middle on the bottom isn't too ugly.
Susan C, Concord NH USA

I've lived outside South Africa for 9 years, and of all the nutty fashions I've ever seen, those jackets take the case. For me at least, Thula Sindi hit the nail on the head, "I wouldn't be caught dead in them".
Sarang Dutt, Edmonton, Canada

They would make good cycling tops - but are they waterproof?
Ivor Nuff, West Midlands

Boyd, London

They're hideous. They look like they're made out of low grade vinyl and just off the disco dance floor. One looks like Captain Kangaroo Goes Electric. I wouldn't dress my enemies in them. It would be cruel and unusual punishment and I'm pretty sure they'd die of embarrassment. I would however offer them to hunters as safety vests.
LW, Gold Beach, USA

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