Friday, April 10, 2015

Mohair – from the goat’s back to the cat-walks of Europe

Men’s suiting fabric containing mohair has a distinctive sheen which makes it easily recognizable when worn in any board room or paraded on a male-fashion cat-walk. Manufactured in Italy or Britain, mohair fabric not only looks expensive but carries an appropriate price-tag. It is associated with high-end customers who only put their names to top quality fabrics such as Louis Vuitton and Armani, Polo Ralph Lauren, J Crew, and Gucci.
The company, Safil of Italy, owns the largest single worsted spinning mill in Europe making a wide range of high quality yarns and fabrics in wool and wool blends including mohair.  It is located in Plovdiv (Bulgaria) and produces 7000 tons a year.  Of the 300 tonnes of mohair and mohair-blended yarns that are processed there, 80% of the fibre is sourced from South Africa.

Cesare Savio, the owner of Safil, said that presently the majority of mohair was used for knitwear and hand knitting yarns, which was in keeping with most people’s image of the fibre’s end-product.  But the luxury characteristics of mohair have long been recognised by the industry as ideally suited to apparel and other fabric uses.
While fine quality tailored suiting is made from mohair blended with wool or other natural fibres, Mr Savio believed there is a market for pure mohair Italian suits.
Unlike wool, mohair is a niche fibre as there are only a few million kilograms produced worldwide. South Africa produces about 4,000,000 kilos annually, of which only about 100,000 kg would meet the requirements of fabric weaving sector.
Australia exports about 130,000 kg of mohair per year (Dec 2013) and is now growing some of the finest mohair in the world. Encouraged by Italy’s biggest spinner, current trial are being undertaken to improve the quality and length even further.

In the mill - raw fibre transformed into fine yarn
Several years ago I visited Britain and was privileged to be shown through two mohair processing mills. Since that time both mills have closed their old premises.

This stuffed Angora Goat was in the foyer
 The first was a traditional 19th century Yorkshire mill building of 7-8 storeys high. After trudging up the stone steps to the top floor, I watched as bales of mohair were opened and the fibre reclassed by a dozen workers. The stencils on the sides of the bales indicated they came from South Africa, Texas, Lesotho, Argentina, Turkey and Australia. The Turkish fibre appeared course, kempy and very greasy. I learned that the angoras were only shorn once a year due to the climatic conditions – the mohair was between 8 and 12 inches in length.
South African mohair is regarded most highly, but today South African genetics are not limited to that country’s goats.
From the classing area, the fibre was sent to the scouring, carding and combing mill some distance away. I next visited the spinning mill where the clean, carded mohair was spun into tops and then mixed with varying percentages of other natural or man-made fibres and lightly spun onto rovings. These rovings were then spun down to 100 times finer thread.
This mill made yarn for various products including high quality mohair velour. Most of the velour was exported to a toy manufacturer in Germany for teddy bears. Top quality mohair velour is also used for plush furnishings in top cruise liners and first class European hotels.

Old painting of mill in its heyday from brochure

The second mill I visited was John Forster and Son’s Black Dyke Mill, established in 1817. It was the largest vertically integrated spinning and weaving mill in Yorkshire producing world famous quality worsted and worsted/mohair apparel fabrics for almost 200 years.
The selvedge edge of the cloth carried such labels as – Celine Paris 60% Summer Kid Mohair and Worsted, Givenchy Gentlemen Paris, and Dunhill Ltd – 60% Summer Kid Mohair. Fabrics were woven using blends of wool, mohair, cashmere, silk and linen.
Almost as famous as the mill itself is the Black Dyke Band, formerly John Foster & Son Black Dyke Mills Band. It is one of the oldest and best-known brass bands in the world. In 2014, the band won the National Brass Band Championship of Great Britain for a record 23rd time.

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