Producing heirloom-quality textiles that warp contemporary style with a weft of sustainability, Mungo has grown from a one-man weaving outfit in an old Garden Route dairy to a modern textile mill turning out eye-catching creations sold worldwide.
Mungo came to life in 1998 when Stuart Holding — a master weaver trained in the famous textile mills of Lancashire, England — started weaving small batches of homeware textiles outside Plettenberg Bay on the Garden Route. Demand grew and Mungo flourished, evolving into a family business today run by Stuart and his two children, Tessa and Dax.
“The philosophy behind Mungo is not one of industrialisation or economies of scale,” says Dax Holding, Mungo’s MD. “We don’t look at how we can scrimp and save to cut costs. The principles that guide the company are of quality and craftsmanship.”
Unlike large commercial mills, at Mungo the designers, Lenore Schroeder and Stuart Holding, work closely with the weavers, who work on a handful of classic mills, some dating back to the late-1800s.
With fabric woven on a machine more than a century old, “the product that we get out is different,” says Holding. “I believe there’s a sense of respect for the product that comes with that. It’s about maintaining a lost art, but also educating the consumer on the value of that lost art.”
Mungo has also created its own aesthetic niche in the market. While Holding is wary of the brand co-opting traditional African designs — “it’s just not who we are” — Mungo blends influences that reflect the continent along with the global heritage and rich history of textile weaving.
A glance at the catalogue reveals designs influenced by early American weaving patterns, by the colours of West Africa, classical tones of the Mediterranean and Provençal hues.
The best place to get a feel for the brand is at The Mill, Mungo’s custom-built — and drop-dead gorgeous — production mill in the Old Nick Village, a retail and crafts hub just east of Plettenberg Bay along the scenic Garden Route.
Opened in 2017, it’s a striking space brimming with subtle design cues inspired by the weaving industry. The outer design speaks to the warp and weft that is the heart of the process; the ponds are tribute to the watermills that powered early mills, and the red brick facade to the industrial landscapes of northern England’s textile heartland where Holding first trained.
“The Mill is really a natural extension of what we do. If you’re using a beautiful old loom from the 1890s you want to share it with people,” says Holding. “We’ve always wanted to be transparent about what we do here at Mungo, and the building speaks to our principles of integrity and transparency.”
Visitors are welcomed daily at The Mill, with free guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays at 11.30am. Not forgetting the retail outlet next door, of course.
“Perhaps my favourite product is the towel I use for surfing, the beautiful orange iTawuli,” says Holding. “But I’m also incredibly proud of the Aegean towel. It’s our first certified organic product, and that’s a real milestone for us.”
While Mungo already works exclusively with natural fibres, the company is progressively introducing organic yarns to the range, and in 2019 became the first weaving mill in SA to be certified organic by the stringent Global Organic Textile Standard.
Looking to splash a little more cash? Look no further than the gorgeous Vrou Vrou bed throws.
“It’s luxurious, fun and has a real chameleon character because of the checks and colours,” says Holding. “It’s a unique piece of textile design.”
Hand-woven in the Klein Karoo
Route 62 is more famous for its wine route than its weavers, but Barrydale Hand Weavers is well worth seeking out on your next Klein Karoo adventure. Carol Morris established this unique crafts centre in 2007, with head weaver Tivane Mavusa mentoring a group of eight locally trained weavers.
Working on wooden hand looms with natural unbleached cotton, jute and hemp, the weavers have become known for their covetable array of home textiles that ranges from rugs to towels, blankets to scarves. Each item is entirely handmade, the label signed by the weaver who painstakingly wove each thread. It’s well worth a detour next time you’re road-tripping Route 62.