About 35 years ago Stuart Holding bundled his wife and two dogs into a rusty car, said goodbye to Cape Town and headed up the Garden Route. The Lancashire-born-and-bred weaver had heard the green valleys around Knysna and Plett were brimming with opportunity.
Setting up his loom in what would become the Old Nick Village just outside Plett, this was the start of Mungo, the distinctly authentic textile brand that is now available across the country and, increasingly, at fine merchants and designers around the world.
Today, Holding still designs the textiles - beautiful linens, towels, kitchen cloths, throws and more - while the next generation is also part of the firm. Son Dax is managing director and runs daily operations, while daughter Tessa heads up the Hout Street store and oversees marketing in Cape Town.
Core to Mungo is that all the fabrics are handwoven by a small team of expert weavers.
The process is begun on an antique 19th- century Hattersley loom, the samples taken home and lived with and, finally, if all is good, developed 10km up the road in The Crags.
From next week that changes when a working museum mill opens at Old Nick adjacent to the original Mungo shop.Housed in a futuristic building designed by the Italian architect Andrea Cristoferetti, guests will be able to view the journey of the textiles from conception to finished product.
The building itself is extraordinary - a large open space with curved walls and exposed beams. From the inside, the shape and materials (face-brick, steel and wood) give it the feeling of a ship - something ready to take off and explore the world. Outside, the surface is made of woven wooden strips, designed to replicate the folds of fabric. A moat runs around the front and from a viewing platform visitors can watch the journey of the cloth.
"Historically textile production is inherently very industrial," says Dax. "At Mungo we defy the status quo.
"For us it has always been about creating a quality, sustainable product that is created with integrity."
Tessa echoes this when she says there's something inherently "real" about the product and it could in part be due to origins of the brand - created in a small seaside town by a community that is naturally holistic. Here, in Plett, it's about the essence of life, not so much a commercial one-upmanship.
Having said that, there is no doubting the elegance of the product, but it comes as much from the manufacturing process as it does from a perceived positioning. Design is high, superior yarns are used, and investment is made in longevity - of workforce and product.
"The product itself is luxurious and we want that to be mimicked in the manufacturing process," says Dax.
"At Mungo it's not about commercialism. We believe that we can't make a product that you'll love and cherish if we don't make it with love."
Over the past five years Mungo has become the name to know, with retail operations now at 44 Stanley in Johannesburg and Hout Street in Cape Town. They show at Maison Objet in Paris and are stocked in global design boutiques as well as the Conran Shop in Paris.
"We have an original old loom called Hatty in the Hout Street store," says Tessa. "And people love it. It really moves the Mungo experience from retail to experiential and that's what we're doing here at the Museum Mill. We want to connect people back into the process of how the textiles are made. It's about buying local, supporting communities and keeping employment in South Africa."
This article was originally published in The Times.