This is *part two in our series on preferred textiles available in South Africa and where to find them. It’s a non-exhaustive list of natural plant fibres like cotton, linen hemp, and rPET, and includes 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. Please note, while our part one – animal fibre textiles – is exclusively South African manufactured textiles, this not only includes fabrics produced in South Africa but also importers of sustainable fabrics such as PhotoGanic and Hemporium.
*If you have not read part one of preferred South African textiles, click here.
Mungo Designs produces a range of cotton textiles, including throws, blankets, linen and towels.
The first GOTS-certified weaving mill in South Africa, most of Mungo Design’s range is woven with cotton for its soft feel, breathability and quality. Woven at its mill in Plettenberg Bay, Mungo’s looms and weaving machines date back more than 100 years.
Sourcing and processing
Conventional cotton farming comes with knock-on negative effects that impact the cultivated ground on the farms that grow it (more on this below). With the ultimate goal of shifting all their yarn to organic sources, Mungo recently undertook a journey in search of the finest organic cotton yarn, which led them to Turkey. There they found Egedeniz, a company with an ethos to match their own. After a shipment of organic yarn, they wove their first 100% organic cotton towel, the Aegean, in 2019.
Mungo Designs also works with linen. According to Mungo communications manager, Lilah Byrne, as a natural resource, linen has a fast growing cycle and requires little chemical interference to harvest. No part of the flax plant is wasted during cultivation – the seeds, straw, oil and fibres are all useful byproducts. Mungo have started incorporating bamboo into their range which is a sustainable, renewable, fast-growing and highly water -efficient crop when grown under the correct conditions.
Mungo sources most of its cotton from Prilla in South Africa. But as there are no organic certified farmers and spinners of organic cotton in South Africa, “we had to look further afield. Currently, we’re importing the Organic Cotton from Egedeniz – the first GOTS-certified cotton yarn producers in Turkey,” says Lilah.
Mungo Designs’ linen fibres are internationally sourced from an Italian company called Linificio e Canapificio Nazionale. Linificio e Canapificio Nazionale source its yarn from farmers across Europe.
Fabric is currently not sold to the public but there are local creatives working with some of their products to produce fashion collections such as Good Good Good.
Contact Person | Tessa Holding
Contact Number | 044 533 1395
Email Address | email@example.com
Website | www.mungo.co.za
Hemporium is a South African hemp company, founded in 1996 by Duncan Parker and Alistair Maclean who were, at the time, students at UCT, with Tony Budden joining soon after to help with marketing and general hemp activism. The first order of material arrived from China in May 1996 and a range of bags and clothing was developed during the course of the year, distributed in Cape Town mainly through The Hemp Shop in Long Street and through a wider range of outlets in Gauteng and even Windhoek.
Hemporium is lobbying for legislation change in order to allow farmers to grow hemp for textiles, from seed to shirt, locally.
Hemporium imports processed textiles from China. This is because hemp has never been illegal in China, so they have had a head start in working with the plant, developing facilities and being able to produce high quality textiles that meet the standards Hemporium’s customers require.
“We would love to source hemp textiles locally but for now that is not possible. For many years hemp cultivation was banned in SA, and only recently are small steps being made to make it more possible. Even when hemp cultivation is more widespread in SA, we will need more processing facilities that are currently not very common here. So we think it might still be a while before high quality hemp textiles are able to be sourced locally,” says Hemporium marketing manager Shale Tinkler.
Sourcing and processing
“Once the hemp has been harvested, the long fibres need to be separated from the rest of the stalk in a process called “retting”. Retting is where the hemp is soaked in water or allowed to lay overnight in the dew, and pectins that bind the hemp fibres are broken down by microbiological activity. After the fibres have been separated, they are then spun together to produce a continuous thread that can be woven into a fabric,” explains Tinkler.
A minimum order quantity on textiles is two metres. Wholesale and bulk pricing is available on orders of 20m and 90m respectively.
Contact Person | Marketing Manager: Shale Tinkler
Contact Number | 021 702 4988
Email Address | Shale@hemporium.com
Address | 15 Bell Cres, Westlake, Cape Town, 7945
Website | www.hemporium.com
GOTS Certified Organic Fabrics Trader PhotoGanic has its home-base studio in Mauritius with fabric outlets in Cape Town. It offers a curated range of sustainable fabrics including a range of locally (SA) produced knit fabrics, imported hemp and organic cotton blends, a range of local and imported handlooms, an imported range of GOTS certified knit fabrics – naturally dyed, as well as more specialised tech fabrics imported from Spain.
Sourcing and Processing
PhotoGanic sources and supplies a collection of certified organic and ethical fabrics in a multitude of weights and grades including, silks, satins, hemp and certified cotton available in a range of natural, low-impact dyed and herbal-dyed shades. PhotoGanic sources their fabrics from a number of certified supply plants across the globe including Africa, India, Spain, Italy and Turkey. It also offers a service of printing any digital design of your choice onto a range of certified and ethical fabrics.
A MOQ of 20m applies at PhotoGanic. The average price per meter with PhotoGanic’s range is R250 per meter. For more specific pricing, read their sustainable fabric price list here.
Contact Person | Director: Victoria Romburgh
Contact Number | +230 5848 2913
Email Address | firstname.lastname@example.org
Website | https://www.organicfabrics.co.za/us/
Rewoven is the first South African company to be developing the capacity to recycle textile waste into a fabric for the manufacturing of clothes. Rewoven has been able to divert 142.36 tons of textile off-cuts from landfill in the City of Cape Town to date. Young entrepreneurs, Esethu Cenga, Lonwabo Mgoduso and Tshepo Bhengu launched The Rewoven Co to create 100% recycled, quality fabric using pre-consumer textile waste. It also sells end-of-roll fabric from brands in Cape Town.
Sourcing and Processing
Rewoven collects and recycles blends like polycotton as well as 100% cotton, denim, acrylic jersey and 100% polyester. Currently, the organisation collects and shreds waste and sends this in bales to recyclers in the Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal. Here, it is recycled into dog beds, jerseys, disaster relief blankets, insulation material and filling for pillows. While there is no local manufacturing capacity to do so, Rewoven is in the process of developing capacity to recycle waste into new fabric. Watch this space.
For Rewoven’s recycled (coming soon) and end-of-roll fabric, the minimum quantity order starts at five metres.
Address | Unit 19 hanger, 17th Avenue , Maitland
Phone | 041 486 2430
Email | email@example.com
For more specific pricing, read their off-cut fabric price list here.
Da Gama Textiles
Da Gama Textiles is one of South Africa’s oldest and largest textile producers with core divisions in home sewing, furniture and workwear. Da Gama textiles has more than 65 years’ experience in the weaving of cotton and the dyeing, printing and finishing of fabrics.
Sourcing and Processing
Da Gama Textiles produces original Shweshwe at the Zwelitsha factory in the Eastern Cape. The process is still done traditionally whereby a weak acid solution is fed onto the pure cotton calico fabric, bleaching out the distinctive intricate white designs. “The ‘acid’ that is used to discharge the Shweshwe prints is a sulfinic acid derivative which acts as a reducing agent. It is ironically termed an acid as its pH is actually above neutral and slightly on the alkaline side (pH 9),” says Michael Cowie. “In terms of a closed loop system, our brand new effluent treatment plant has been designed and spec’d to handle the total volume and make-up of our effluent,” adds Michael. The fabric comes in various colours and a large variety of designs.
Address | Hargreaves Avenue, Zwelitsha, 5608, Eastern Cape, GPS coordinates: -32.912349, 27.4248823
Phone | +27 (0)43 760 1078
Email | Cowie Trading firstname.lastname@example.org
Site | https://www.dagama.co.za/
Svenmill is a Cape Town-based fabric manufacturer that has been in operation since 1958. Svenmill produces cotton, linen, bamboo, hemp as well as poly-cotton and cotton-lycra.
Sourcing and processing
Svenmill developed their own linen for 12 years before they changed to sourcing it from France when a company in Atlantis called Herdmans had to close its doors due to mismanagement, according to managing director of Svenmill Brent Greenblatt. All of Svenmill’s yarns are bought from Prilla – a cotton spinning mill which sources its cotton from farmers across Southern Africa. A lot of these farmers are small scale, growing on a crop rotation basis.
Svenmill are not stockists, they are fabric manufacturers so their minimum quantity is already 300m. “We do make exceptions. We are working with designer, Lukhanyo Mdingi. He can’t handle 300m so I sell him 50m. Although it sometimes is costly for Sven because we produce the 300m roll anyway. But, we like to explore how our products can be taken to the next level and what he does with our fabrics,” says Brent. He says that depending on the colour to the weave / knit / blend, MOQ ranges from R40 a metre for a T-shirt fabric to R150m for 100% linen.
Contact Person | Brent Greenblatt
Email Address | email@example.com
Website | www.svenmill.com
What to know before you select a natural plant fibre
Cotton is a naturally occurring fibre that is breathable and light and commonly found in everyday clothing items like T-shirts and jeans. According to Good On You, “Compared to other common clothing fibres such as synthetic polyester and semi-synthetic rayon and bamboo, cotton has the advantage of being a completely natural product that doesn’t require an intensive chemical process in order to be transformed into fabric.”
However, according to various research articles, the production of cotton into various textiles can be ethically exploitative and environmentally polluting – 25.9 million tonnes of cotton are produced every year, 85% of which comes from India, China, USA, Brazil, Pakistan, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Mexico. According to a study by Levi Strauss & Co, one pair of Levi jeans requires a staggering 3 781 litres of water and with over two billion pairs of jeans produced worldwide each year (according to Good on You), producing cotton is an incredibly ‘thirsty’ crop. Toxic chemical dyes and pesticides are also a concern in the denim process, polluting waterways and rendering them hazardous.
What you should do
Do your research when choosing your cotton fabric and read resources like the sustainable sourcing guide, CottonUP. There are also various certifications you can look out for when sourcing your cotton fibre like Fairtrade, Global Organic Textile Standard, and the Better Cotton Initiative.
Look out for the green South African Cotton Mark symbolising unstoppable sustainable growth. Which was developed by Cotton SA in 2019 around the Pure Cotton Mark. “The new circular design applied to the marks represents the integrated collaboration of the industry taking hands, forming partnerships and working together to achieve a quality cotton end-product, to complete the circle. This circular effect, is carried through the cotton cycle, from production to seed cotton harvested in round bales, the production of the fibres by rotating saws in the gin, which are enhanced by the rotational processes at the spinner level where yarn is spun and winded onto bobbins – right through to the end-product, producing finished rolls of fabric,” says Cotton SA.
For more information on these marks, download Cotton SA’s “Cotton Mark Presentation” here: COTTON SA COTTON MARK PRESENTATION_updatedv2
Hemp is known as a ‘bast fibre’ which means it is made from the plant’s stem like flax and jute. Marijuana’s ‘sober cousin‘ has been used for thousands of years as an inexpensive fibre fit to make an array of items like rope, canvas, and of course, clothing. Its advantages are manifold including temperature regulation and UV protection according to Good On You’s Material Guide.
Good On You’s Material Guide concludes that hemp fabric is a highly sustainable fabric option because it is “a low-impact crop that can be converted into fabric sustainably”. It is a natural pesticide so no herbicides are needed in the cultivation of the plant, plus it is said to return more than half (up to 70%) of the nutrients it takes from the soil. Unlike its cotton counterpart, it uses very little water – around 50% less water than cotton per season. Lastly, on a relatively small space of land, hemp can “produce up to double the fibre yield per hectare than cotton.”
However, you should be aware that hemp only sits at the top of the sustainable fibre basket when it is farmed and produced slowly, without chemicals (which is often used to produce hemp faster and at a cheaper price but has intense consequences on the environment), and void of chemical dyes.
What you should do
With hemp, the production process is the phase we need to worry about when it comes to sustainability and ethics. According to Good On You, one can usually tell if hemp fabric has been chemically produced when the item is labelled “hemp-viscose”.
The sustainability movement has proven that the textiles mentioned above cannot be referred to as 100% ‘sustainable’ as production and transport of all fibres will always contain steps which are not all sustainable and require constant improvement. Environmental and ethical responsibility and sustainability is ensured by collaborating with, as well as supporting local farmers and communities (providers of the raw materials) who comply with the sustainable guidelines set out by the industry.