BY Dana Biddle | May 24, 2012
The Weavers of Abafazi
In a small, rural village in the Eastern Cape Province of South Africa, 16 women spend their days hand weaving beautiful scarves, shawls, wraps, throws, blankets, bedcovers and cushions. It’s a very labor intensive process, and they use only the finest quality, locally produced mohair and ostrich feathers. Most of these women are the breadwinners of their families, and because of their remote location, this work is their only means of income.
Abafazi means “The women” in Isixhosa and Isizulu, two of South Africa’s 11 official languages. Ricca Turgel, the founder of Abafazi, and designer of all the products, has trained these women in their craft. With a background in product design, she started out helping her partner, Jan Paul Barnard, with color and design at his mohair processing plant and curtain making business.
In 2001 they were invited to a show in Germany and wanting something different, designed the Mohair and Ostrich Feather Throw. She came back with orders for 50 throws – all in their natural color. Abafazi has grown from there, and different colors and items are now offered, all dyed with environmentally friendly EU accredited dyes. The ostrich feathers, however, remain in their natural colors and have to be carefully chosen from the 120 different sorts available. Ostrich feathers are sorted according to color, length, the part of the bird they come from and the age of the bird. Learning this process took Ricca almost four years to find out what to ask for!
Mohair was first introduced to South Africa in 1838 by a small herd of Turkish Angora Goats. All the rams had been neutered by the exporters, but a ram kid was born on the voyage. Today, South Africa produces the best quality mohair in the world. Abafazi uses these natural fibers from a renewable source and works in a socially responsible manner using ecologically sensitive production methods. They have unlimited access to and usage of Jan Paul Barnard’s mohair processing facility, which means they can be versatile and flexible according to market demand. Their products are sold both at home and abroad and Ricca now attends at least four international shows each year including Heimtextil in Frankfurt and Maison & Objet in Paris. Abafazi’s luxurious wares are well accepted by the high-end home décor market. They have been chosen every year to showcase their unique articles at the prestigious Trend Forecasting Forum at Heimtexil .
Because they still have production capacity on the looms and many more trained local women who are eagerly awaiting employment, Ricca intends increasing their exports by continuing to develop exciting products to add to their existing range. With this in mind, she is developing a range of pure mohair clothing embellished with handmade Nguni horn buttons.
For more information about Abafazi, please visit www.abafazi.com.