South African mohair
Did you know?
The word ‘mohair’ is said to originate from ‘muyhar’, the Turkish word for top-class fleece.
Elton John sings of electric boots and mohair suits; top Italian men’s outfits are made of mohair; mohair sweaters are romantic gifts; Japanese mohair weavers are said to be the best; and there’s nothing like a little mohair knee blanket for huddling under when the harsh Karoo winters bite.
Mohair, it is said, is the new cashmere.
For centuries, the Turks of the Ottoman Empire bred fabulous angora goats that produced silky mohair.
The sultans were so enamoured with the fibre that they kept its production a secret. The goats were cloistered away and there was no exporting of mohair.
However, as far as mohair legends go, nothing beats the back story of South African mohair.
In 1838, 12 infertile rams and one ewe were sent to South Africa. At these odds, there was just no chance of a local angora industry.
But the ewe was already pregnant. She and her newborn son were thus the original stock that led to South Africa becoming a world-beater in mohair production.
When you travel in the Karoo from Graaff-Reinet, south to Steytlerville and across to Jansenville, you will spot these hardy goats with their shiny white ringlets nibbling about in the semi-desert.
The angora breed has taken very well to the climate and vegetation of the Eastern Cape Karoo region, producing what is dubbed the ‘diamond fibre’, which is durable and takes dyes well.
Global fashion houses have embraced mohair in many ways, and the South African tourism industry offers a wide range of sought-after products such as scarves, jerseys, knee blankets and the granddaddy of all mohair goods, the king-sized winter blanket: light as a feather, but warm as toast.
The beauty of embarking on a ‘mohair safari’ is that you get to tour and appreciate the starkly beautiful Karoo region at the same time.
Jansenville, a village in the Eastern Cape, now has South Africa's first mohair museum bearing the theme called 'from the veld to the fibre'. In the mohair museum you follow the progress of mohair production from the shearing shed to the final product.
Travel tips & Planning info
Who to contact
Mohair South Africa
Tel: +27 (0)41 487 1386
Tel: +27 (0)21 534 4134
How to get here
You can order mohair products from the relevant listed websites. Better still, go on a road trip to the Karoo and buy your products at source from designated farm stalls and shops in the small towns. Check the Mohair Meander route on the Mohair South Africa website.
Best time to visit
The best time to appreciate mohair is in the dead of winter, when you will be amazed at how such a light covering keeps you so very warm.
Around the area
Most of the mohair industry lies within the Karoo. Check the Karoo Heartland website for more, including information on farm stays, country hotels, active adventures and heritage tours.
Tours to do
Tour the Mohair Museum in Jansenville.
There are two options for a mohair safari: a digital shopping trip or a real-time overland excursion that will bring you good travel memories and fine mohair products.
What will it cost
Mohair products might seem a little pricey, but there is enormous value for money.
Length of stay
A week-long tour of the Karoo will yield all the mohair items on your list.
What to pack
Pack for weather extremes. If you're visiting in winter (June to August) then pack the woollies. If you're coming in summer (September to May), pack light, with a raincoat somewhere deep in your luggage.
Where to stay
In the Jansenville/Steytlerville area there are angora farms where you can experience the mohair industry at grassroots level – see the Karoo Heartland and Mohair South Africa websites for details.
What to eat
Prime dish on your mohair safari: Karoo lamb chops
Lamb chops are the prime dish of the Karoo. And for those who like sweet things, drop in at one of the many farm stalls for freshly baked goodies.
The Mohair Meander will take you through the historic settlements of Beaufort West, Graaff-Reinet, Jansenville, Alicedale, Middleburg and Jeffreys Bay. This is a huge chunk of the Eastern Cape and should provide you with a week's great touring of the area.
No question here: mohair, and more mohair!