By  on August 11, 2009

JOHANNESBURG — South Africa’s mohair industry is looking to change negative perceptions about the fiber within its own borders.

South Africa is one of the world’s largest producers of mohair, a fiber derived from the fleece of the angora goat. Its history in the country stretches back to 1838 when the first angora goats were imported from Turkey. Today, South Africa exports about 4 million kilograms, or 8.8 million pounds, of mohair each year, representing 70 percent of the worldwide supply. Despite this, mohair is seldom seen at the country’s retail outlets.

“It is almost impossible to buy mohair in shops in South Africa,” said Glynnis Gillwald, manager of the Wool & Mohair Exchange of South Africa. “The local perception of mohair is that it is something used in the craft industry or a fluffy blanket that granny once had that was itchy and scratchy, shed fiber and caused allergies.”

In an effort to change people’s attitudes, the Wool & Mohair Exchange, the National Wool Growers Association and Mohair South Africa approached designers Malcolm Kluk and Christiaan Gabriel du Toit of luxury label Kluk CGDT to create a collection showcasing mohair. The Cape Town-based designers had little trouble incorporating the fiber into a range of products.

“[Mohair] really fits in with what our label is all about,” said du Toit. “We believe in using local products that are internationally luxurious.”

The duo’s capsule collection featured day- and eveningwear, as well as suits and separates that were inspired by the sophistication of the Cole Porter era.

“We made a deliberate effort to showcase the contemporary timelessness of mohair,” said Kluk. “Mohair is not the frumpy material South Africans seem to think it is and we wanted to dispel that.”

Anton Masters, chairman of Mohair Promotions, said the collaboration with Kluk and du Toit was the beginning of several planned promotional activities. It was important “to bring the beauty and versatility of our home-grown animal fibers to the attention of the general public.”

At its peak in the Eighties, Gillwald said South Africa exported as much as 12 million kilograms, or 26.5 million pounds, of mohair a year. This number dropped dramatically in the Nineties as international prices fell and farmers switched to game farming. But things seem to be looking up, said Gillwald.

“There is a huge, concerted, industrywide effort to encourage the farmer to return to mohair, as the market is active and the prices are excellent,” Gillwald added.

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