South African wool, specifically locally grown, regeneratively farmed wool, is key to the revival of the textile industry and to building a sustainable, ethical and regenerative fashion system. Wool is a renewable, regenerative, biodegradable natural fibre. Unlike synthetic fibres, it does not disintegrate into plastic microfibres and pollute land and water systems. Aside from being an eco-friendly fibre, wool is versatile and has many benefits for the wearer, such as breathability and durability.
The inaugural Karoo Winter Wool Festival, held on 25 June 2022 in the Middelburg, Eastern Cape, was a gathering of farmers, weavers, dyers, designers, makers and businesses working with South African wool. Here, we feature 11 of the makers who together demonstrate the versatility, durability, and beauty of this natural fibre.
Adéle’s Mohair creates knitting yarns, accessories, and home textiles from locally-sourced mohair and wool. Adéle Cutten started her business in 1983 and continues to run it adhering to fair trade and green standards.
Made by rural women near Port Alfred, South Africa, the products are handmade to order and the in-house production process includes spinning, dyeing, winding into balls of yarn, knitting, and crocheting.
At Adéle’s Mohair, nothing goes to waste. All leftover yarn is upcycled. “Depending on how much yarn is leftover, we make it into smaller balls for knitting kits, or we combine all the yarn scraps to make upcycled balls of yarn that we call our ‘thick and thin’ yarns,” says Adéle.
Read more about Adele’s Mohair
Blankets from Africa
Roslyn Bechet was inspired to start her business, Blankets from Africa, after a road trip through the Karoo, where she noticed that the level of unemployment, especially among the women, had reached alarming levels.
Aligned with the ethos of “giving hope one stitch at a time”, Blankets from Africa is a community-based business that produces beautiful woollen products and creates sustainable livelihoods for women in the Karoo. They aim to pay living wages and follow fair trade principles.
Using South African wool sourced from the Karoo, unemployed women learn how to knit blankets, jerseys, and kids’ wear. “We work with around 40 women, at the moment, and we are always looking for more people, because we are now supplying bigger retailers such as @home (SA) and Free People (US),” says Roslyn.
Blankets from Africa won the “Best Story” prize at the Karoo Winter Wool Festival 2022.
Read more about Blankets from Africa
Founded by Ira Bekker, Botanical Nomad explores eco-printing, botanical dyeing, slow-stitching, and nomadic arts. The name “Botanical Nomad” was inspired by Ira’s nomadic travels across South Africa. Wherever she stopped, Ira experimented with the local plants discovering variations of natural pigments as she travelled to different areas.
“I then started slow stitching and wanted to use thread that was naturally dyed. And so, I started dyeing my own,” says Ira. Soon she was creating botanically dyed wool.
Ira focusses on soil-safe dyeing, which she practices by using tannins that don’t require chemical mordants to bond with the wool fibres.
Read more about Botanical Nomad
Owned by BKB, a South African wool brokering and trading company, Core Merino is bridging the worlds of wool and sport with lightweight, comfortable woollen active wear for men and women.
Woollen garments may conjure up images of chunky winter jerseys. On the contrary, it is the perfect fibre for light-weight activewear. “If you think about wool on a sheep’s back in the veld, it can live in the Karoo during summer when it is over 50 degrees or in winter when it’s freezing. And, they still survive and thrive,” says Kira Van Heerden from the Core Merino team.
The benefits of using Merino wool for outdoor and activewear are that it protects you from the sun, allows you to stay odour-free, keeps your skin dry, is breathable, and acts as a temperature regulator.
Sustainability is central to Core Merino which is demonstrated through their material innovations, supply chain traceability, textile certifications, and garment repair initiative.
Read more about Core Merino
Gerber & Co.
Started in 2017, Gerber & Co has created a vertical supply chain, with garments made from hand-sheered, 100% organic Namaqualand Merino Wool. The final offering is trans seasonal wardrobe essentials made from high-quality fibres.
Founder Stefan oversees every from part of the making of a garment from fleece to the front door. The refining processes are done locally, before the yarn is sent to their community weavers to be knitted into the final garments.
“The ‘Co.’ in ‘Gerber & Co.’ stands for community. We are all a community, from the grower to the spinner, weaver, and consumer – everyone in this value chain is a community,” says Stefan Gerber.
Gerber & Co won the “Most Sustainable Brand” prize at the Karoo Winter Wool Festival 2022.
Read more about Gerber & Co
“The name comes from my grandmother and means ‘she who is most important’,” says Natalie Green, founder of INKE. INKE knitwear celebrates feminine power, diversity, and creativity while contributing to the growth of the local natural fibre industries.
The silhouettes are perfect for trans-seasonal wear challenging the rapid trend cycle that prioritises quantity over quality. “I want to encourage the idea of clothing as investments and garments that you can wear for many years and seasons,” says Natalie.
Yarns are locally sourced, mainly from the Karoo and Eastern Cape regions of South Africa. INKE only supports South African wool farmers who implement sustainable and ethical practices. Each garment is knitted and completed in Cape Town.
Read more about INKE
Started in 2020 and based in the small town of Richmond in the Northern Cape, Karoo Creations prides themselves on crafting beautiful woollen duvets for a peaceful night’s sleep.
“We used to have a hotel in Richmond and when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we challenged ourselves to make five wool duvets a month. We are now making 15 duvets a day,” says Aubrey Williams who along with Lionel Millard are co-founders of Karoo Creations. They are now the biggest employer in Richmond. The hotel is closed to visitors and the rooms have been transformed into spaces for wool production and the creation of their duvets.
Designed to have the least impact on the planet, each natural fibre duvet is made-to-order and their wool and Alpaca fibre can be traced back to the farm of origin.
Their duvets also have benefits for those who suffer from allergies, hot flushes, hot sleeping temperatures and dust sensitivity.
Read more about Karoo Creations
Karoo Moon sells hand-dyed natural yarns, and knitting and crochet kits that are underpinned by a love of colour. Judi Sheard and her team, based in East London, are passionate about sourcing and spinning natural yarns that are used to make your knitting dreams come true.
Karoo Moon began with a vision to work within local communities to train and empower women to continue the artisanal traditions of hand spinning and dying. Each ball of South African wool is handmade and carries the touch of the communities and cultures that helped create it.
Karoo Moon won the “Best Stall” prize at the Karoo Winter Wool Festival 2022.
Read more about Karoo Moon
Felt with Karen
Karen Platte has a passion for creating felted items with Merino wool. In 2004 she started hand-dyeing her colour range as there was no one else in South Africa doing this. She now offers a colour range of over 60 vibrant hand-dyed wools including Merino, Karakul and Mohair Curls.
Karen’s products include hand-dyed wools, felted farbics, felting equipment, and small-batch Waldorf-style children’s toys. She also offers various workshops including private felting lessons and group lessons from her workshop in Stellenbosch.
Read more about Felt with Karen
Based at Victoria Yards in Johannesburg, Urban Flock employs women (mostly single mothers) offering them an opportunity to earn a living by lovingly producing knitted and crocheted knitwear, blankets, and toys, using hand-dyed 100% Merino yarn from the Karoo.
Urban Flock currently works with about 10 women and all their South African wool is sourced from Karoo Moon.
Read more about Urban Flock
Founded by Hannelie Bekker, Wrapt Knitwear is inspired by the joyful everyday act of getting dressed and getting “wrapped” in cloth.
The team of five is based at the Victoria Yards in Johannesburg. Wrapt Knitwear predominantly works with natural fibres including sustainable Merino wool, cotton, mohair, and linen. The only exceptions are for the addition of small amounts of synthetic fibres to strengthen some mohair yarns.
The thoughtfully created, slow fashion knitwear pieces are created in small batches and aim to be sustainable, versatile, comfortable, and timeless.
Read more about Wrapt Knitwear