South Africa is noted as the biggest producer of mohair in the world. In a recent exposé by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the industry was painted in a bad light. However, the majority of producers in the country operate their farms and shearing facilities according to the highest standards.

In a video interview for the South African Mohair Growers’ Association (SAMGA), some of the country’s most esteemed Angora goat farmers said they were horrified to see that such an honourable industry is so luridly misrepresented.

They condemned the cruel treatment of animals as shown in the PETA footage and spoke about the ethical practises on their farms and in their shearing sheds. The SAMGA video shows footage of the high standard of practices they maintain in their shearing sheds, and with how much love and care most farmers treat their animals. The video also includes a statement that punitive action will be taken against those farmers who have transgressed.

The mohair industry provides 30 000 jobs and supports the local economy through export. FarmBiz spoke to industry role-players to find out more about how mohair is processed, and traced the process from shearing shed to sweaters.

Mohair arrives in its raw form at the factory and is processed into yarn and other products. (Photo: Stucken Group)

Mohair volumes

“South Africa is one of the major producers of mohair – production is currently more than 53% of the global mohair clip. The fibre processing divisions of local companies buy mohair and export the processed product to various types of industries.

“Approximately 98% of mohair is processed locally, with only 2% of greasy or unprocessed mohair being exported. In fact, we even import greasy hair from oversees and process it in South Africa,” says Riaan Marais of Mohair South Africa.

The processing of mohair is similar to that of wool, although the terminology might differ in some cases. For example, where the classification of wool is known as grading, the word classing is used for mohair.

Terminology tells the story

The following terminology is widely used in the industry:

Shearing: On average, the hair of Angora goats grows 1cm per month. The goats are sheared every six months, either by hand or with electric shears. Shearing offers relief from the heat in summer and helps keep the animals’ coats clean of thorns and other plant material.

Mohair is sorted into groups of the same type and quality, ready for sale by auction. (Photo: Stucken Group)

Classing: Mohair is sorted into groups of the same type and quality, ready for sale by auction. Fibre is sorted according to micron size – the finer the better.

Micron: The fibre diameter of mohair is measured in microns (1 micron = 0,001mm). The lower the micron figure, the finer the quality.

Scouring: Mohair is washed to remove grease, dirt and other foreign matter.

Carding: The clean mohair fibres are transformed from staple, a continuous fibre of a certain length, to sliver, a bundle of fibre drawn into long strips by separating the fibres.

Combing: The remaining vegetable matter and shorter, irregular sized fibres are removed from the carded sliver to transform the fibre into soft and luxurious tops.

Mohair is combed to remove irregular-sized fibres from the carded sliver, transforming the fibre into soft and luxurious tops. (Photo: Stucken Group)

Tops: A continuous strand of long fibred wool or mohair that has been combed to achieve a soft texture.

Spinning: Spinning is used to convert the mohair tops into yarn suitable for knitting or weaving. Spinning can be done by hand for small-scale processing, but is usually done by machine.

Yarn: Spun thread used for knitting, weaving, or sewing. Yarn is made in two main ways: Woollen yarn is made by twisting short fibres that lie in different directions; worsted yarn is made from long fibres that lie parallel.

Yarn made from mohair is used for knitting, weaving, or sewing. (Photo: Stucken Group)

Weaving: Yarn is used to manufacture worsted or woven cloth. One set of threads is interlaced with another set lying in the opposite direction.

Dyeing: Adding colour between any of the stages in wool or mohair processing. Products can be dyed after washing, combing (top dyeing), spinning (yarn dying), or weaving (piece dying).

Blending: It is rare to find pure (i.e. 100%) mohair fabrics, particularly woven fabrics. It is mostly present in blends with wool (yarn blends), which means that the dyeing and finishing machinery and conditions used must be suited to both fibres.

The details of dyeing

Although similar machinery is used for mohair and wool dyeing, there are some important differences to take note of. The literature on the dyeing and finishing of wool is vast, with much of it also applicable to mohair. There is far less literature, or public knowledge, available on the specialised conditions and procedures required to dye and finish mohair products, simply because much of the knowledge is a well-kept secret.

Mohair generally has a higher rate of dye uptake than wool of similar diameter, and, for the same dye uptake, has a deeper shade than wool, possibly due to its smoothness and lustre. It is best to dye it at a pH of 4 to 5.

A continuous strand of long fibred mohair that has been combed to achieve a soft texture. (Photo: Stucken Group)

In general, milder conditions (particularly temperature and time) are used to dye and finish products containing mohair than for pure wool products. This is partly due to the need to conserve the lustre of mohair and partly because mohair is generally more sensitive to wet treatments than wool.

It is common practice to dye at temperatures below the boiling point, preferably below 90°C, and to limit the time of dyeing at high temperatures so as to curtail any adverse effects on lustre and other desirable properties. It is also possible to limit damage to the fibre by using fibre protective agents.

A typical dyeing and finishing route for a lightweight mohair/wool (outerwear for men and women) suiting fabric would be piece dyeing, cropping, and singeing. For a yarn dyed mohair/wool men’s suiting fabric (e.g. 210g/m2), finishing could typically involve singeing (both sides), crabbing (e.g. water at 75°C), rope scouring, heat setting (e.g. 185°C for 30 to 40 seconds), humidifying, cropping (shearing), pressing (continuous), and pressure decatising.

Pressure decatising is used to stabilise lustre, set the fabric, and improve dimensional stability and fabric flexibility. It involves, for example, 0,8 to 1 bar pressure at 120 to 125°C for two minutes at a pH of 6, and a regain of 12 to 15% (Source: Mohair SA).

Mohair is a luxury fibre that is especially popular with fashion houses. However, mohair is also making a comeback with the general consumer. (Photo: Stucken Group)

Global trends

“Mohair is a luxury fibre that is especially popular with fashion houses. Ermenegildo Zegna, for example, is one of the world’s leading luxury men’s fashion labels and has a specialised division in Milan that concentrates solely on the making of tailored mohair suits, using only the finest kid mohair,” says Marais.

“However, mohair is also making a comeback with the general consumer. According to Paolo Zegna, president of the Zegna Group, millennials specifically are driving the demand for mohair. Younger generations are becoming more aware of the environment and those producing natural products.

“Among their clients they have seen the ‘need to know’ culture, where people want a story behind the product they are buying. They want to know that sustainable practices are used, and that the environment and animals are preserved. They want to know where their money is going, and who the people behind the fibre and products are. It speaks of a social and environmental consciousness among consumers.” –Ursula Human, Farmbiz

Special thanks to Philip Stucken of the Stucken Group, and Riaan Marias of Mohair SA for their assistance with this article. For more information, send an email to stucken@stucken.co.za or info@mohair.co.za.

Read a Farmbiz article about wool processing here.