South Africa: The Land of Mohair

Social Fabric

60% of the world's mohair comes from South Africa. Find out about 2 local designers in the context of the landscape at the edge of the African continent.

MOHAIR
has a unique lustre and a fine texture which makes it one of the world’s most luxurious textiles, incorporated into Saville Row suits and fashion-forward South African knits by Laduma Ngxokolo for MaXhosa.  

How mohair came to South Africa, a tale of adventure and sabotage

Even though South Africa produces most of the world's mohair, the angora goat - from which mohair comes - did not originate from South Africa.

Some say they arrived in 1839, when South Africa first imported the goats from Turkey. However, many did not survive the long journey and the few survivors turned out to be neutered - allegedly sabotaged by the Turks who didn't want foreign competition! Legend has it there was one surviving ewe who, unknown to the Turks, was pregnant, and that it is her progeny that fathered the industry.

It's a good story, but...

most likely the goats settled due to the efforts of the intrepid Mosenthal Brothers some 20 years later. Their story is no less full of drama.

For one, their search for the goats is said to have taken them to Tibet by way of Nepal and to Persia by way of the Tigris. All these journeys were fruitless until Russia allowed them passage into Asia. There, they found both their goats and a willing seller.

The journey home with the goats was no less fraught: longer than a year, disrupted by war and disease, with only 30 goats making it. Fortunately this was enough to found a South African industry, and a few decades later, South Africa exported more mohair than Turkey (footnote 1).

SAMIL SA

While the Mosenthal Brothers have ceded to history, companies like SAMIL SA, who worked with us on our mohair iteration (see Part 2), continue and grow the industry.

THE KAROO
The angora goats are farmed in a region called the Karoo, a semi-arid shrub land of stark beauty, with wide skies above and intricate weaves of flora & fauna on the ground.

An old animal coral in the Karoo.

THE IMPACT OF LANDSCAPE ON DESIGN?
As the weaver birds have used the grass, twigs and other fauna to weave their intricate nests, have the Karoo's landscape impacted some of South Africa's fashion designers who work with mohair? We profile two, Kristen Claire Ristow and Tayla Nguskos Smith.

Karoo

The Swartberg Pass bisects part of the Karoo, carving out panoramic views.

A landscape of contrasting colours and textures.

Prince Albert

The road leading to the picturesque town of Prince Albert.

Kristen Claire Ristow is inspired by textures. She plays with this not only by using different mohair yarns but also by inter-weaving other materials such as leather and metallic threads.

She says: I feel as though texture is something people can see, but also feel, which in my opinion connects people to my work as they can’t simply walk past and look, but they have to walk past, stop and touch. Which I like, because I feel design isn’t purely about visuals – it’s about connection and through texture I feel I achieve this.

Kristen Claire Ristow, Spirit, 2016.

Fynbos

Fynbos means "fine bush" in Afrikaans a South African language. It is a plant kingdom unique to South Africa.

A tight weave of ground covering including thistles and dried fynbos sticks.

Spring time (which is in September in the Southern Hemisphere) sees a burst of flowers.

Tayla Nguskos Smith's "Flourish" collection references fauna such as lichen and algae on tree bark.

Her design is informed by experimentation and the unexpected, such as applying paint to mohair (how she created the crackled effect).

Delicate embroidery and beading provide contrasting highlights.

Tayla Nguskos Smith, Flourish, 2015.

Find out more about mohair in South Africa
View "material thinking" which profiles Social Fabric's work with artist Liza Grobler as artist-in-residence at SAMIL SA, and the workshop that followed for designers who considered how mohair can inform architecture, and architecture, mohair.  
Credits: Story

Credits and Links:

Kristen Claire Ristow
find out more Kristen Claire Ristow
With thanks to Mieke Barnard for photography and interview with the designer

Tayla Nguskos Smith
find out more Tayla Nguskos Smith
With thanks to Mieke Barnard for photography and interview with the designer

SAMIL SA
is a vertically-integrated mohair company that processes raw tops through spinning into yarn and dyeing. It hosted the mohair iteration of our project. Find out more, visit SAMIL SA

Footnote 1: There are two sources for the origins of angora goats in South Africa: the Knowles Collection, which traces the family history of 1.3 million Jewish families, lead us to the Mosenthals. The Mosenthal story was also recounted by the brothers’ employee, Mr. G Massey, and published in the Agricultural Journal of South Africa, in January, 1926.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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