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Part One: Preferred South African animal fibre textiles

by | Nov 10, 2020

This is part one in our series on preferred South African textiles and where to find them. It’s a non-exhaustive list of natural animal fibres like wool, cashmere and mohair, their sourcing and processing practices, and where to find them. We are committed to supporting the local industry and to sourcing as much information as we can to inform designers, producers and consumers.

In the 1960s and the 1970s, the City of Cape Town was the hub of South Africa’s garment and textile industry. As the leading employer of labour, the clothing manufacturing sector in Cape Town alone was a significant contributor to the South African economy. “In 1996, we reached the high point in clothing, textile, leather and footwear employment in the country which is about 260,000. Subsequently, the numbers have come down (formal sector only) to about 90,000,” says Etienne Vlok, SACTWU’s National Industrial Policy Officer.

This once-booming textile factory industry began to unravel when local manufacturers were unable to match the cheap imports from Asia. By the end of 2013, over 160,000 jobs in the industry had been lost. “In just two decades we lost about 160,000 people. The industry’s numbers plateaued in 2013. And it is still not growing in the way that we want it to. We don’t want to stop at stabilising a once-thriving industry, we want to ensure it becomes a job creator,” Etienne says.

According to Business Insider, there is a renewed interest in domestic textile production and sourcing from South African clothing retailer giants like Truworths and Mr Price. The fabric and textile mills producing natural fabric sustainably and ethically in South Africa that remain, not only present an opportunity to hem an unravelled textile industry but to shift the current linear model of production to a slow, circular one.

Stucken Yarns Store

Stucken Yarns, previously Mohair Spinners South Africa (MSSA) is an industrial spinning mill that produces natural yarns for various weaving and knitting applications. They offer a Stock Supported range and a Made to Order service that is supported by a mutually beneficial yarn development programme.

Sourcing and processing

Based in the Eastern Cape, Stucken Yarns Store spins predominantly natural fibres including Mohair, Wool, Silk, Alpaca and Linen. Mohair is bought on auction before being sent to the Uitenhage factory. The majority of their fibres are scoured and combed on site at Gubb & Inggs, a processing mill under the Stucken Group. Gubb & Inggs are responsible for processing the mohair into scoured, cleaned and combed mohair tops. All raw materials for each processing lot are recorded and can be traced back to source.

Tops are then sent for spinning at Stucken Yarns. Some of these yarns then get sent to SYD (Specialty Yarn Dyers) – an on-site dye house – if they are to be dyed. The vertical production chain continues at Hinterveld where yarns are either woven for blankets or bespoke fabrics  or knitted into fashion accessories under the Babymoh! brand. While the majority of wool and mohair used originates in South Africa, a lot of it is not beneficiated here. Some of these imports are better suited to certain applications and so also form part of the Stucken’s offering. However, as part of Stucken’s commitment to sustainability, traceability back to farm is available upon request.

“We are also excited about the two new standards launched by the Textile Exchange, RMS mohair (Responsible Mohair Standard) and RWS wool (Responsible Wool Standard) which we will including these certified fibres in our offering as more farms in South Africa become certified,” says sales and yarn development manager, Ruth McNaughton.

MOQ

For yarns wholesale minimums are 30kgs per type which can be purchased directly from the mill. Smaller quantities of undyed yarns can be purchased via the online store.

Contact

Sales and Yarn Development | Ruth McNaughton
Phone | +27 (0) 41 817 3210
Mobile | +27 (0) 82 946 7241
Site | http://www.stuckenyarns.com/
Address | Hendrik Van Eck Drive, Riverside Industria, Uitenhage, 6229, South Africa

Ivili Loboya

Predominantly led by women, Ivili Loboya Wool Processing Hub is located in Ibika, a rural town near Butterworth in the Eastern Cape where products are both handmade, as well as machine-knitted. With sustainability and environmental concerns at the core of their business, Ivili Loboya produces natural, sustainable textiles for apparel and décor products using natural fibres in Cashmere and Wool exclusively.

Sourcing and Processing

Ivili uses predominantly locally sourced materials and source from overseas if they cannot find local yarns for cotton or silk blends in the production process.

MOQ

Ivili Loboya welcomes all order sizes. Ivili Loboya collaborates with luxury knitwear brand Dedani Collections which showcased their line at African Fashion International in March this year.

Contact

Managing Director | Lilitha Mahlati
Phone | +27 11 325 5186, +27 047 495 0075
Mobile | +27 83 457 9807
Site | www.ivili.co.za, www.dedanicollection.com
Office address | 8th Floor Firestation Rosebank, 16 Baker Street, Rosebank, Johannesburg
Factory address | Tainton Rd, Ibika Industries, Butterworth, Eastern Cape

Mohair SA

Located in Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, Mohair South Africa seeks to ensure that the South African mohair industry is sustainable in every way possible.

Mohair SA is a non-profit industry body that supports the industry from farm to retailer and has recently launched a Responsible Mohair Standards, through the global organisation Textile Exchange. These standards took 18 months to finalise and the working group included leading brands, retailers, animals welfare groups and local industry role-players.

Mohair SA works closely with global brands and retailers ensuring the farming and processing methods meet the respective sustainability goals and continues to work on improving and meeting future goals too. With this information, Mohair SA spends time educating farmers on their market demands, training farmworkers and ensuring the speedy adoption of the new standard.

Contact

General Manager and Head of Sustainability | Lindsay Humphreys
Phone | +27 41 581 1681
Mobile | +27 82 896 9642
Site | http://www.mohair.co.za/
Address: 127 Fordyce Rd. Walmer. Port Elizabeth. 6070

Helderstroom Alpacas

The Cape Guild of Spinners and Weavers is a collection of members rather than a factory in itself.
President of the South African Alpaca Breeders’ Society, Alison Notley and her husband Christopher have been involved with the alpaca industry in South Africa almost since its inception in the early 2000s.
Apart from Peru which is home to 95 per cent of the world’s alpacas (approximately 3.5 million) and perhaps Australia (although much of Australia’s alpaca products are, or were, made in China) alpaca is still deemed a cottage industry.

Sourcing and Processing

The processing of alpaca fibre has been a stumbling block from early days. One of the guild’s members brought  a mini-mill from Canada and this was perfect for when only a small volume of fibre was produced in those early days. Now the volume has crept up to approximately 7000 kgs per annum and now mini-mill isn’t big enough for the job. A larger mill has been purchased, but it’s now uneconomical to take small amounts of fibre from small alpaca breeders.
Helderstroom Alpacas have concentrated on creating employment and going about producing one-off handmade top of the range garments for the fashion industry and private clients. They send their raw fibre to Ivili Mill for washing and carding and it comes back in carded batts, or blankets. From these, they hand spin fibre into yarn on traditional spinning wheels and then the yarn goes to one of their many knitter to turn into a garment.
While Heldestroom Alpacas weave, they don’t make cloth per se. They weave scarves, wide scarves, shawls and ponchos with woven alpaca and hand knit (on knitting needles not on machines), jerseys, jackets, cardigans, ponchos, and all sorts of accessories.

Contact

President of the South African Alpaca Breeders’ Society | Christopher and Alison Notley
Phone | +27 (0) 28 840 0158
Mobile | Christopher: +27 (0)72 236 9356
Mobile | Alison: +27 (0)82 662 9670
Site | www.helderstroomalpacas.co.za
Address: P O Box 324, Villiersdorp 6848, Western Cape, South Africa

Quenti Alpaca & Mill

On a farm near Wellington in the Western Cape, Quenti Alpaca and Mill run a breeding herd of alpaca standing at just shy of 300 head. There is a mill on the farm where they process the alpaca’s fleece.

Quenti Alpaca and Mill also make yarn for other breeders and owners. Their yarn range is extensive and comes in natural and hand-dyed colours in pure alpaca as well as blends with other natural fibres like silk, merino, cotton and bamboo. Through their online shop they supply other stores too. On top of hand knitting and weaving, Quenti Alpaca and Mill yarns are used in their own range of knitwear and throws for local as well as international sale. Knitwear includes socks, scarves, beanies, sweaters and baby blankets.

Sourcing and Processing

Quenti Alpaca and Mill work with alpaca fibre from their own herd kept on their farm. There is no lanolin on alpaca fleece so the washing is quite gentle and as such the water is used for irrigation on the farm. They do have some blends of yarn using our alpaca and blending in local merino or cotton. Quenti manufactures under two brands, Aymara and Cape Alpaca.

Download and read Quenti Alpaca & Mill’s catalogue here: Aymara Yarn Catalogue Final Print Ready

Contact

Founders | Linda Nessworthy or Stephen Nessworthy
Phone | +27 21 873 6242
Mobile | +27 83 250 3127 (Stephen)
Mobile | +27 83 452 8283 (Linda)
Email | [email protected]
Site | https://quentialpacas.co.za/
Address: Klein Limietrivier Farm, Wellington, Western Cape, South Africa

SAMIL Natural Fibres

South African Mohair Industries Limited (SAMIL) was born in 1992 and specialises in the production and processing of natural fibres, as well as speciality spun yarns.

Sourcing and Processing

Farming: SAMIL, is one of the principal mohair top processors and exporters in the world, was established with the primary objective of stabilising and possibly increasing mohair supply to the processors.

Combing: As mohair processing has decreased in other areas of the world, SAMIL Combing, as it is now known, has become one of the world’s leading processors of mohair.

Trading: Although mohair is produced in various parts of the world, South Africa processes in excess of 80 percent of the world’s mohair production. The advantage of having both top-making and spinning operations in South Africa, as well as access to raw material produced within the company, is that SAMIL is able to offer lots guaranteed from origin.

Spinning and Dyeing: SAMIL caters for hand knitting, machine knitting, weaving, hosiery and decor markets. Although SAMIL are specialists in mohair, they do textile blends with other natural and man-made fibres. Yarns can be custom dyed to any shade at SAMIL’S dye house.

SAMIL’s aim is to provide a sustainable, affordable, quality product, showcasing not only the product but also the industry, country of origin and individuals participating in the production of the fibre.

Contact

Address | 79 Burman Rd, Deal Party, Port Elizabeth, 6012
Tops Division | [email protected]
Yarns Division | [email protected]
Phone | 041 486 2430
Email | [email protected]
Site | www.samil.co.za

 

What to know before you select a natural animal fibre

Wool

Before choosing the natural animal fibre you would like to work with, there are a few things to consider to ensure the choice you make is an ethical and environmentally conscious one. According to Good On You’s material guide, wool is pegged as a great alternative to energy-intensive synthetic petroleum by-products like nylon and polyester, which are forms of plastic. Wool is a renewable resource that ticks the following boxes:

  • Wool is biodegradable – unlike synthetic materials, wool will decompose. Once a woollen garment has been worn out, you can literally just bury it in the ground and it will eventually compost (of course the dye has to be non-toxic)
  • Wool is a breathable and a natural insulator
  • Wool has a unique ability to react to changes in the body’s temperature, meaning it keeps you cool in summer and warm in winter.
  • Wool is easy to care for, and is pretty much resistant to staining!

However, the controversy around using natural animal fibres to produce textiles lies within animal welfare. It has been found in various countries that there are some producers of merino wool that practice *mulesing (a banned practice in South Africa) to reduce the incidents of a deadly parasite called ‘blowfly’ which causes flystrike. Environmental arguments that intensive, industrial sheep farming can cause land degradation have also been made regarding wool farming.

What you should do

Good On You suggest that, “when buying wool, look for standards and certifications that ensure the fair treatment of animals and the respect of the environment,” such as the Responsible Wool Standard, ZQ Merino Standard and the Soil Association Organic Standards. If you are still unsure, contact the supplier and request a farm visit or footage of the animals and the processes. Remember, transparency is key.

Cashmere 

Cashmere is made from goats. Like wool, it is natural and biodegradable. However, according to Good On You’s material guide on cashmere, “the fibre still largely comes from Asia, where it’s produced and refined before being sent West.” Cashmere did not always carry the controversy it bares today. It takes four goats to make enough hair to produce one cashmere jersey which is why, just decades ago, the fabric was considered a ‘luxury item’ that was ‘special’ and durable enough to be passed down to several generations in a family.

The introduction of the fast fashion model subsequently called for mass production and lower, competitive pricing. This means herders have more goats to feed which has fast become an ecological balancing act usually resulting in land degradation.

What you should do

Cashmere is trickier than wool because a lot of the solutions include halting the use of virgin cashmere and using recycled cashmere instead. However, again, transparency is king. If you are still uncertain after viewing certification for specific standards and doing your own research, reach out to the supplier and request a farm visit to meet the animals and the famers.

Mohair

Mohair is a fibre that comes from angora goats. South Africa is regarded as one of the top mohair produces in the world with an industry value of R1.5 billion. Like wool and cashmere, it is often slated for its animal treatment and questionable farming practices. Around two years ago, PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) released a video expose in which several mohair farms in South Africa were implicated in the alarming mistreatment of their goats and kids (baby goats). This has led to increased awareness of the Mohair SA’s sustainable mohair production guidelines.

What you should do

PETA is advocating for the cessation of virgin mohair altogether. However, the situation is not so black and white. It is argued that a complete shutdown of the industry could lead to other ethical ramifications of the many livelihoods that rely on the industry a glimpse of which was seen after PETA’s video expose subsequently led to more than 70 clothing companies worldwide banning mohair including H&M and the Inditex group – an industry which directly employs over 30, 000 South Africans.

The Responsible Mohair Standard (RMS) developed by the global non-profit, Textile Exchange was launched earlier this year to drive a sustainable and ethical mohair industry. However, it is a voluntary standard at this stage so the same research and transparency tips mentioned earlier should be heeded when sourcing mohair.

Read the RMS report here: RAF-101b-V1.0-Responsible-Mohair-Standard. And South Africa’s guidelines here. 

*Although mulesing is banned on sheep and goats farmed in South Africa, it is still practiced overseas in big wool-grower countries like Australia. We have included “What to know before you select a natural animal fibre” in this article because it is important information to keep in mind if you are looking to import wool, mohair or cashmere, or, if you are looking to become a more conscious clothing consumer in general and would like to know that the natural animal fibre you are wearing has been ethically and responsibly made.

Part two will be published on Monday 16 November. 

**This article is an updated version of the original to highlight that the inhumane practice of mulesing in sheep and goat farming is banned in South Africa.

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