Here at Mungo, we often find ourselves face-to-face with a look of befuddlement. “Mungo? Ohhh, Mango!”
“No, Mungo,” we reply. Second look of confusion. “We do beautiful, sustainable homeware textiles.” (hopefully a look of recognition at this point).
So in an effort to dispel this moniker muddle, we’re sharing with you a bit of history behind the Mungo name.
mun·go | \ ˈməŋ-(ˌ)gō \
Definition of mungo: a felted fabric made from the shredded fibre of repurposed woollen cloth
The word ‘shoddy’ might call to mind something of inferior quality or poor workmanship (certainly not one of Mungo’s branding angles), but the story of the mungo and shoddy trade is essentially a tale of early recycling.
During the Napoleonic Wars in the early 19th century, trade sanctions restricting raw wool imports led to insufficient wool supplies. With cloth makers unable to meet demands, resourceful business owners looked for a solution to the problem. This led to the rise of the mungo and shoddy industry – a way of repurposing discarded woollen garments.
In 1813, Benjamin Law of West Yorkshire found a way of using rags to produce new fibres, by grinding up woollen waste fabrics on a rag machine. The result was an upcycled cloth called ‘shoddy’. The process was later streamlined to create a finer, higher quality cloth called ‘mungo’.
To produce mungo and shoddy, textile scraps were collected by rag dealers, sorted into usable pieces and scoured. The woollen rags were then shredded on a ‘teazer’ machine, blended with some raw wool, carded to detangle the fibres and woven into cloth. The resulting fabric was sold on, often being used in the manufacturing of blankets or army uniforms.
So how does this all link up with Mungo? Well, it’s got to do with our provenance… and those first two antique looms that were carefully refurbished by Mungo founder, Stuart Holding 20 years ago. Today, we have 17 looms in our collection – many of which have been carefully restored to their former glory. Just like the mungo of many years ago, we took something old and made something new…
But it’s not just about upcycling. Older weaving technology allows for more flexibility in the design, producing weaves with a loftier handle and more complex patterns. The antique shuttle looms, in particular, make it possible to weave products like the Lisburn Linen and Selvedge Serviettes, which each feature a true selvedge – a tightly woven, self-finished edge that stops the fabric from unravelling or fraying.
Basically, mungo is a philosophy I’ve worked with my whole life. When I finished my apprenticeship, I didn’t want to work in a big industry that exploits people and the environment. So I went the route of hand spinning and hand weaving, and of making my own equipment. The word ‘mungo’ came to me in a time of necessity – of needing to do things renewably. That’s what we do at Mungo – we refurbish old looms that are destined for the scrapyard. We embodied the sense of mungo – making something useful from something discarded. Mungo is mungo; it’s the way we use and do things. Plus I could hardly call it Shoddy Designs!
Stuart Holding – Mungo Founder and Master Weaver