When Leandi Mulder and Frances van Hasselt returned from a residency in Japan, they brought back a nugget of advice. Masaki Sato told the young designers, “Embrace what is unique to your situation”.
After applying what they learnt from Sato, a master of creating unique, luxury yarns, the friends launched FVH X LM, a collection of women’s wear knitwear at the Design Indaba last week. The seven mohair knitwear designs are inspired and influenced by the Karoo. Mohair, the fleece of an angora goat, is a soft, natural fibre that is breathable, odourless and biodegradable. It is one of the world’s most ancient and sustainable natural fibres, often associated with luxury.
The colours of the FVH X LM collection are rich and earthy reflecting the hues and tones found naturally in the landscapes where angora goats roam. The garments are expertly crafted and hand-knitted, the designs contemporary, reflecting respect and deep understanding of the source of material. Frances who grew up on a Karoo mohair farm says, “We had dreamt about collaborating and creating a mohair collection locally for a while, wanting to celebrate the origin of our pieces.”
But before they could start collaborating on a collection, they needed to learn about technique. Even though South Africa supplies the bulk of the world’s mohair, most of it is exported in raw form. Very little is done locally to beneficiate the fibre. To gain a better understanding of the full potential of mohair, Frances and Leandi spent a month at Sato Seni, a fourth generation textile house in Yamagata, Japan. There, Masaki Sato taught them about mohair’s characteristics and how to work with it. He is passionate about connecting with farmers, understanding origins of the fibers he uses and making sure of the quality and sustainability of the supply chain.
Over and above technical skills and creating supply chains with integrity, Sato taught them to stop being frustrated with what the South African textile industry was lacking. “He told us to rather look at what we had and what makes us unique,” says Frances. He encouraged the designers to combine overlooked skills and strengths inherent to South Africa and its local craftspeople.
They met Sato when he travelled to South Africa on a trip to to identify the best yarns in the world where he identified Frances’ family farm as a supplier. A gold cardigan that Michelle Obama once wore is made from a special mohair yarn, “the finest mohair ever made”.
“That mohair was spun by Sato Seni and it came from our farm,” Frances says. Through her business, Frances VH Mohair Rugs, Frances focuses on growing the South African mohair industry and with her close friend Leandi, she follows sustainable practices and unique textile construction using mohair. Leandi, who is from Durban, first became aware of sustainability and ethical issues when she was a fashion design student. “I learnt how the fast fashion model is depleting the world’s natural resources at a higher rate than ever before; encouraging people to consume more and attach less value to their clothes.”
Leandi, who is currently furthering her studies in sustainable design in China, says, “My work as a designer gravitates towards exploring ecological and sustainable design.”
The duo’s collaboration “was very much an organic process which unfolded so naturally and kept improving as we shared the process with the markers, mentors, and creators,” says Frances.
The design of each garment is influenced by the yarn and knitting of hand crafters at Adele’s Mohair. When Frances and Leandi found Adele Cutten they knew they could put their design dreams into practice. “We fell in love with her. She is a genius, wonderful woman,” says Frances.
On a small holding in Port Alfred, a town between Port Elizabeth and East London, three kilometres away from the sea, Adele has formed a collective of women who work in harmony with “the environment and support and promote natural fibres”. There they spin yarns; dyeing, knitting and crocheting items. Leandi and Frances chose yarns with Adele, and then they played, adjusting pieces here and there as they discovered what the yarn could do.
One of the unique elements introduced by Adele is the use of her “magic” balls of leftover yarn. Adele doesn’t waste anything. The green jersey is one of the collection’s most striking pieces, with its colours and qualities telling the story of the Karoo flora and textured landscapes. “The shades of colour varying from rich olive shades to pistachio, sage and emerald, are created by the multi-textured yarns,” says Leandi.
“It has a wide neckline and a loose-fitting silhouette, and is constructed through a wide-gauge knit making it breathable and suitable for warmer and cooler days. The texture comes from the recycled and upcycled yarn. Some areas of the jersey have a chunky, fluffy feel, others are defined by boucle loops and some sections are made from the finest mohair yarn.”
With a completely local, sustainable and hand crafted supply chain, FVH X LM celebrates mohair’s unique characteristics and preserve traditional craftsmanship in rural South Africa. Frances says, “Instead of creating trend-centric pieces we hope to see our clothing looked after, worn with confidence and passed down through the ages”.
Word is out that they are building a studio in Prince Albert. “Women come up to us in the streets saying they can knit and crochet. The skills are here. All they need are raw materials and access to market.” Frances and Leandi dream of creating a completely vertical and integrated supply chain.
With their vision and commitment, it’s a dream they are sure to achieve.
Fashion editorial photograph credits:
Designers: Frances van Hasselt X Leandi Mulder
Yarn and Construction: Adele’s Mohair
Photographer: Jacobus Snyman
Model: Nkosazana Niko
Make-up: Inga Hewett
Hat: Crystal Birch
For more information see here. Prices from R3 300