Dreamer establishes cashmere production in South Africa

“THIS is my song,” a woman exclaims as the start of Boom Clap Bachelors featuring Coco O.’s Løb Stop Stå fills the Impact Hub in Johannesburg. “Who sings this?” the guy next to her asks. Then he offers: “Oh! It’s AKA.” She rolls her eyes, then says: “It’s the original song.”

Just then, another voice pierces that song. Blue light shines on the woman, who prompts the DJ to stop playing so that we can listen to her operatic sound. She commands the room in very much the same way that Dr Vuyo Mahlati does.

Dressed in a black evening gown, the founder of Ivili Loboya, a textile production company based in Ibika in the Eastern Cape, has gathered a room full of media, friends and Kiernan Forbes to experience an exhibition, which ran until February 25, that focuses on different types of wool.

More importantly, everyone is there to witness the announcement of Ivili Loboya as the first producer of cashmere on the continent. Armed with a tag line “Wool for the world” and under the name the Dedani Collection, Mahlati emphasises women doing it for themselves.

From the MC for the evening to the 3-million-and-more Eastern Cape women who farm sheep and goats, and those who work directly with Mahlati, it’s clear that empowering women is important to the doctor. As explained in a press release: “Ivili Loboya is enhancing livelihoods and bringing jobs to the rural Eastern Cape, employing 24 people so far with over 30 seasonal sorters, seven weaving co-operatives, and sourcing its fibres from 332 small farmers, many of them women.

“Yarns for blends – such as merino, mohair and silk – are sourced where possible from local commercial agencies, communal wool producers and rural hand-spinning co-operatives in order to enhance the impact of Ivili Loboya.”

With a company name meaning “Wheel of wool”, Mahlati and her team have spun a tale that they are proud to tell. Processed wool hangs from the ceiling and is complemented by white flowers. There are corners of the room that are adorned by cashmere made to look like dreamcatchers.

The symbolism is not lost on anyone. This is a dream come true for Mahlati. The busy woman of the moment took some time out to talk to me about what this milestone means to her. She said it took some time to research how South African goats could be good makers of cashmere wool.

“People manufacture but import from countries like China,” Mahlati explained. “We have these indigenous goats but we have not really paid attention to them. The history of wool in South Africa dates back many years, so households in South Africa know wool from sheep, but we have not as yet focused on the commercialisation.

“There have been experiments looking at our own iMbuzi (goats) as far as cashmere goes, and we worked with the CSIR (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research) in the research phase, then took it further and commercialised it. We are now a serious commercial entity that uses iMbuzi for cashmere.”

She continues: “We take the wool from the sheep and goats, and since we have a factory, we process it in Butterworth. We make the sliver, and out of that, handspun yarns.

“We also work with other commercial entities in terms of spinning the wool and we get involved in eco-dyes. We’re a vertically integrated factory that starts with raw material. And what’s important is that we work with a lot of women in this process.”

As far as the name of the collection goes, Dedani means to make way for something or someone.

In a video played during the evening, someone declared that through Ivili Loboya, darkness would make way for light.

Mahlati told me: “We wanted to name it Dedani to say ‘make way’ to everyone.”

“In terms of synthetics, in a sense, we’re saying we have our own indigenous resources and we need to create opportunities using our own. We need to present that to South Africa, to the continent and, ultimately, to the world. Saying ‘make way’ is about reclaiming the textile space by Africans for the world.”

Source: Cape Argus, 27 February 2017