Temper takes five with China-based South African mohair maven Leandi Mulder. From innovational sensational textile construction to a newfangled collab with Frances van Hasselt of FRANCES V.H Mohair Rugs,… Leaving behind all that is trend-centric, it is time to board the Mulder train of thought!
FYI: The fleece of an Angora goat, mohair is one of the world’s most ancient and bespoke sustainable and natural fibers. Education is empowerment, peeps.
Lustrous, sheen-full and nicknamed the “Diamond Fiber”, mohair has both textile and luxury lovers salivating at its purest sight. Sustainability addicts, too, swoon at the appearance of this fabric’s added natural and renewable beauty, presenting a sustainable and ethical production chain between angora animal and humble human.
Today’s two designers share a longstanding friendship and a passion for sustainable design principles. Their fondness for natural fiber usage and the creation of a new narrative around African luxury forging a fashionable bond which most recently translated into the powerful punch of a full-fledged ethically fashionable celebration of South Africa’s raw beauty. Introducing: Leandi Mulder and Frances van Hasselt.
Mulder takes one for the team as Temper puts her in the hot seat. Chug!
From The Karoo To Beijing City
To be fair… The above intro might — unjustifiably so — imply that mohair is automatically sustainable and ethical,but that would be dishing out false or incomplete intel — we wouldn’t dare. Mohair’s sustainable levels depend on the extent to which its farmers and manufacturers follow the guidelines which ultimately can, and often do, give the fiber its luscious standards. Straight from the source, we brought you these words of wisdom. Speaking of which…
Mulder is a fashion designer from Durban, South Africa, who focuses on sustainable practices and unique textile construction. She is currently completing her Master’s in Fashion and Innovation at Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology (BIFT) in China, with a specialization in innovative mohair design.
Van Hasselt, too, has from birth forged a close connection with the fiber at hand as she hails from a family in the Karoo region that farms with one of the oldest Angora goat studs found in South Africa. She founded FRANCES V.H Mohair Rugs upon her return to her native land from working in the Hong Kong fashion industry.
FYI: No angora goats were harmed during this interview. #weheartcheesystill
Fashion Education X Ethical Empowerment
Temper: How’s BIFT school been treating you?
Mulder: “Why BIFT? Why China?” It’s a question I get asked on the regular.
I completed my honors degree in fashion in South Africa at Durban University of Technology (DUT) back in 2017. I was working as a fashion lecturer and managing my personal design label post-graduation. Around this time, I was also looking into various possibilities for my Master’s degree.
On this side of the world, BIFT has been branching out on an international level to build relationships with various fashion institutions around the world. DUT being one of them. I was subsequently approached by the schools to consider attending BIFT. They presented me with a Master’s scholarship, covering all tuitions, accommodation fees plus a monthly stipend. After they reviewed my portfolio and resume, I was allowed to attend BIFT at a Level 3 Mandarin and before I knew it, I found myself putting both feet on Beijing territory.
Thus far, school has been a tumultuous journey — to say the least. Language is always a struggle and our first year is an academic year including classes given in [Mandarin] Chinese. I have actually been taking Mandarin classes in-between fashion lectures and electives, which has helped dramatically not only in terms of communication, but also in terms of understanding the culture.
I feel like I have settled into a comfortable routine, and I am certainly very positive about the next part of my studies here.
I am working hard and remain constantly appreciative of this great opportunity that has been very generously presented to me.
I recently also entered a national fashion design competition called the “Fifth China Mohair Fashion Design Competition”. Fifty students were selected across five Chinese universities to participate in this competition; and I was lucky enough to be selected the overall winner. Exciting times!
This, to me, has furthermore confirmed that I am where I am meant to be — and people are appreciating my work from both near and far away.
Social Responsibility X Conversation Starter
Temper: No less of a burning question, why opt for the socially responsible side of fashion?
Mulder: Over the years of my fashion career, I have become increasingly aware of sustainable and ethical issues at play within the fashion industry. I learned in particular how the fast fashion model is depleting the world’s natural resources at a higher rate than ever before, encouraging people to consume more and attach less value to their clothes. This information really shook me, especially with the realization that I am entering into this world where we are at its core, selling over-active consumers clothing that they do not necessarily need.
I started with my own personal life, by changing my lifestyle and attitude when it came to fashion design, consumerism and clothing. My work as a designer therefore gravitated towards exploring ecological and sustainable design through both recycling and upcycling. I looked at the resource potential of waste-clothing and through applying a somewhat intuitive and creative process, I transformed scraps of fabric into textile pieces used in my garments. I showed my collections at two fashion weeks in South Africa and gained great response and feedback from the attending public.
At the end of the day, for me it’s all about creating a conversation starter. If my designs can inspire people to be more mindful and think more carefully about their consumption habits, I feel like I’ve achieved my goals.
[FYI: Upcycling is when you reuse discarded objects or materials in such manner as to create a product of a higher quality or value than the original. Recycling is when you convert waste into reusable material.]
Crafting Collections X Getting On Track
Temper: How do the Van Hasselt| Mulder (FVHxLM) collections get on track?
Mulder:Together, we [Van Hasselt and Mulder] in 2017 traveled to Japan in order to do a residency at Sato Seni, a world-renowned artisanal yarn and knitwear atelier based in Sagae, Yamagata. Upon returning from Japan, we brought back a newfound realization instilled by head-designer Masaki Sato. He told us as young designers to “embrace what is unique to your own situation”. Look at what makes South Africa exclusive and special in its own way. After putting into practice what we had learnt from Sato, FVHxLM was launched.
Temper: What about the process behind the creative curtain?
Mulder: This collection has been a collaborative effort in the truest sense of the term and the project would not have come to fruition without the combination of our diverse skill sets, time and obsessive passion for the project.
South Africa does not have any cutting-edge machinery or means of fast production. The two of us worked with the skills unique to the South African textile industry combining amazing agriculture, the world’s best natural fibers and a group of artisans sitting in rural communities with years of dyeing and spinning experience.
We try as much as possible to celebrate the raw beauty of the land, the yarn and the craftsmanship in our pieces.
Mohair Choices X Challenges
Temper: What actually IS mohair? What are the challenges of working with mohair? Additionally, what are the challenges of working in China AND running an ethical collection in South Africa?
Mulder: Mohair is the fleece of an Angora goat. It is one of the world’s most ancient and bespoke, sustainable and natural fibers. It has fabulous qualities that make it so rewarding to work with; it is a soft, breathable, odorless and biodegradable.
We’ve seen established high-end brands like Chanel do mohair ranges, but the two of us truly feel there’s a deeper need for the development of equally luxurious, smaller-scale collections established with a transparent supply-chain — within South Africa.
This is what the FVH x LM Mohair Knitwear collection tries to set in motion. And the opportunity to create sustainable employment on a local level is nothing short of huge!
South Africa (SA) is where your production takes place. All of it or only in part?
We are exceptionally proud of our completely local, South African, supply chain.
The fiber hails from the Karoo, home of global mohair production. The yarns are handspun and hand-dyed by a local women’s collective in rural areas of our country. The yarn development is created through a beautifully organic and sustainable process, stemming from a deep respect and connection to nature and the environment. Every piece is handcrafted from start to finish.
We only work on a “made to order” basis as we simply do not believe in mass production. Each piece is specifically created for the wearer.
Connections, Collections X Community
Temper: What about the communities that benefit from your collection’s existence? Have you seen actual improvement in quality of life for the local women involved since starting out? How does one quantify progress and success?
Mulder: By connecting these skilled local artisans to a global marketplace, a sustainable income prevails. We have seen time and time again that in households where women earn a steady income, the communities at large witness drastic improvement. Women tend to invest in the wellbeing of their families: Meals, schooling, healthcare and education. It is imperative to provide them with the opportunity to earn an income.
The FVHxLM Knitwear Collection is made of up pieces that achieve just this — on a small scale. By purchasing one of these limited edition pieces, the buyer|bearer is supporting the farmers, Angora Goats, the Karoo and the women who skillfully created these artisanal mohair knits (by hand).
We hope to expand this project in order to make a bigger difference in the near future. This is only the start of our joint vision for change.
China Fashion X Responsibility
Temper: China Fashion X Ethical Responsibility: Your opinion(s)?
Mulder: For me personally, as a designer studying in China, I hope to tap into new skills and technologies that we don’t have access to in South Africa. The South African government is currently putting in great efforts to revive the local textile industry — which back in 1994 in fact crashed. I think it is beyond important for us to embrace the technological innovations in textile development. And China is currently the leader in this field.
One more word: IMPERATIVE.
I’ve already seen some micro-level changes in China happen in the field of sustainable design. At BIFT, we often have conversations and design lectures centered around sustainable design – from zero-waste design to eco-fabrics. Ethical responsibility is a whole separate issue, but I think it is important for the fashion industry and consumers, in China and beyond, to take responsibility. And steer towards change.
The aim is always to learn; to train your sights on combining new knowledge with a dedication to artisanal design and ultimately share this with the South African, Chinese plus global industry.
To achieve success, according to the Mulder train of thought, is to find meaning in what you do. And even in the smallest way, stir up some positive change in this crazy world.
The FVHxLM Knitwear Collection for one is right on track.
Find out more about the mohair mavens via:
Their personal websites: www.leandimulder.com; www.francesvh.com
IG: @leandimulderdesigns; @francesv.h_mohair_rugs
All images come courtesy of Leandi Mulder and Frances van Hasselt for the FVHxLM Knitwear Collection AW20. All rights reserved
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