After completing a weaving apprenticeship at 16 years of age in the silk mills in Yorkshire, UK, Master Weaver Stuart Holding established Mungo in 1998 in Plettenberg Bay, South Africa. Holding leased an old trading store and began to teach the locals how to spin and weave. As the company gained momentum, they purchased power looms and began to produce pure cotton furnishing fabrics. Fifteen years later the family-run business has celebrated sales domestically and abroad, providing the world with beautiful home furnishing textiles that weave brilliantly crafted visual histories of South African culture.
Soft, natural cotton fibers woven from Swaziland-grown yarn are dyed in vibrant hues in the formation of “itawuli,” the Xhosa term for towel. “Local South African surroundings and insights inspire the designs,” according to Tessa Holding. The flat weave designs are influenced by African Kuba cloth and traditional woolen Basotho blankets that tribes in Lesotho commonly use. Earth tones and ethnic patterns reflect the African landscape and heritage.
Original products of unparalleled quality rely heavily on the technical side of production. There is a constant need to know which products are desired in the market, where natural yarns/fibers that are produced ethically can be found, and what technical capabilities the looms hold. According to Stuart Holding, “fabric comes first,” so the handle and feel is most important without compromising the end quality. Though the products are more costly and take longer to produce, their longevity and skilled craftsmanship enable the products to prevail.
Creations come to life in the old fashioned way. Designs are drawn out by hand and individually colored on graph paper. From there they are punched into pattern cards which are fed to the loom, generating the weave. Type of yarn, how it has been spun, weight and absorbency are always carefully considered when designing the towels. Luster and texture will be determined by the type of yarn used. Carded, ring-spun cotton that has a long staple is used to create greater absorbency.
Finishing is one of the most important parts of the process. “Itawuli is individually woven to ensure a specific selvage and washed finish,” explains Tessa Holding. “Our patterns are sometimes adapted from antique weaving books and given a modern twist. In the case of the itawuli, the color ways and bold patterns are an extension off living in Africa and our everyday surroundings, from the rich rustic landscapes and the local flora and fauna.”
Itawuli departs from Mungo’s more classic looks. Fresh colors and prints are used, and a stripe that runs down the center of the towel reflects the favored pattern incorporated in traditional woolen Besotho Blankets. Though the stripe was initially an error due to lack of communication, it became highly popular amongst South African communities.
Through ethical sourcing and production and the refusal to mass produce, Mungo products are built to last. These locally produced textiles help to uplift the local economy, produce jobs and educate communities. The soft hand of the fabric brings tactile comfort, and the bold designs serve to light up any home.