Mohair, as the name suggests, actually is hair. Hair off the back of a specialist breed Angora goat, sheared twice a year to make a silky yarn that can be fashioned into anything from coats to cardigans to shawls and throws. Mohair is known for its silky sheen and softness and was often referred to as the diamond yarn for its scarcity and luxurious richness.
Most confuse Mohair with Angora wool — which is entirely different. Angora wool is the fur off Angora rabbits, not goats.
But what I didn’t know was that South Africa is the biggest exporter and industry for the finest mohair from Angora goats. My husband on a recent business trip to Cape Town brought back the most beautiful mohair throw and that ignited my interest and curiosity.
A quick look in google maps confirmed that Angora is a place in Turkey, miles and oceans apart from the southern tip of South Africa. So how come Angora goats farming became such a big industry and more importantly, the finest most luxurious mohair carries the South Africa’s hallmark?
It all started in 1838 with the Sultan’s mistake.
But going even further back, mohair had been used to keep bodies warm since biblical times. It became modestly popular in the 15th century. At that time in history, with an expanding Ottoman Empire, trade grew and this silky, creamy white, luxurious mohair from a little know place Angora, found its way to European courts.
Initially it was introduced to Eurpoe as gifts for kings and high ranking aristocrats. But later on it became sought after by all affluent gentry in Europe. They had never seen or worn anything like it and were amazed at its lightness, silky-ness and warmth.
As word spread and some ingenous dyers started experimenting and dying mohair in all rich colours, from risque red to dazzling yellow, its popularity and demand grew even more.
Some budding European entrepreneurs of the time, seeing an emerging trend travelled east and managed to coax Ottoman farmers to sell them Angora goats and started their own little farms in Europe cashing in on the demand.