Each piece of FVH X LM mohair knitwear is a future heirloom
SA designers Leandi Mulder and Frances van Hasselt applied the knowledge they learnt in Japan to creating a knitwear collection inspired by the Karoo
When Leandi Mulder and Frances van Hasselt returned from a residency in Japan, they brought back a nugget of advice. The president of spinning company Sato Seni, Masaki Sato, told the young designers: "Embrace what is unique to your situation."
Applying what they learnt from Sato, a master of creating unique, luxury yarns, the friends launched FVH X LM, a collection of women's knitwear at the Design Indaba this week.
The seven knitwear designs are inspired by the Karoo and made from locally produced mohair, a soft, natural fibre that is breathable and odourless.
The colours of the expertly crafted hand-knitted garments are rich and earthy. The designs are contemporary and reflect a respect for and deep understanding of the material. Van Hasselt, who grew up on a Karoo mohair farm, says: "We had been dreaming about collaborating and creating a mohair collection locally for a while. And we wanted to celebrate the origin of our pieces."
But before they could start collaborating on a collection, they needed to learn about technique.
Even though SA supplies most of the world's mohair, most of it is exported in a very raw form. To gain a better understanding of the full potential of mohair, Van Hasselt and Mulder spent a month at Sato Seni in Yamagata, Japan.
They had met Sato when he travelled to SA on a trip to find the best yarns in the world. He identified Van Hasselt's family farm as a supplier.
A gold cardigan worn by Michelle Obama is made from a special mohair yarn, the finest mohair ever made. "That mohair was spun by Sato Seni and it came from our farm," says Van Hasselt.
Over and above technical skills, Sato taught them to stop being frustrated with what the South African textile industry was lacking. "He told us to rather look at what we had and what makes us unique," says Van Hasselt. He encouraged the designers to combine overlooked skills and strengths inherent to SA and its craftspeople.
Through her business, Frances VH Mohair Rugs, Van Hasselt has focused on growing the South African mohair industry. Durban-based fashion designer Mulder is studying sustainable design in China. The duo's collaborative process is an organic one that "unfolded naturally" says Van Hasselt.
The design of each garment is also influenced by the yarn and knitting of hand crafters at Adele's Mohair in Port Alfred in the Eastern Cape, when Adele Cutten's collective of women spin and dye yarn and knit and crochet items.
Mulder and Van Hasselt chose yarns with Cutten, and then they played, adjusting pieces here and there.
With a completely local, sustainable and hand-crafted supply chain, FVH X LM aims to celebrate mohair's unique characteristics and preserve traditional craftsmanship in rural SA. Van Hasselt says: "Instead of creating trend-centric pieces we hope to see our clothing looked after, worn with confidence and passed down through the ages."