Our Aranda History
A Woven Tale of Heritage
Buongiorno, Dumelang, Hello and welcome to Aranda Textile Mills. This is the story of how different cultures have been woven together to create the Aranda brand, making it a household name in Southern Africa. We have a proud history in developing and producing a variety of quality blankets, throws and shawls since 1953. Our exquisite craftsmanship combined with our diverse backgrounds has enabled us to secure a place within the competitive global market. We are the fashion name in blankets and throws.
Nestled in the heart of Tuscany at the foot of Monte Retaia, you will find the city of Prato, the textile capital of Italy. This was home to Aranda’s founding family, the Magni’s. It was here, five generations ago, that the Magni family’s first textile manufacturing plant was established. During World War II, before Germany pulled out of Italy they employed the scorched earth policy. This entailed placing bombs under the machinery in the factory; and before the family’s eyes, their livelihood, their future and all their hard work was blown to pieces.
South African troops, under the command of Colonel Arthur Aiken, occupied the remnants of the plant. Aiken, who was also the chairman of Barclays Bank South Africa, persuaded the Magni family to move to South Africa after the war to rebuild their future.
Now strangers in South Africa, the Magni’s sought a suitable piece of land where they could build their new textile factory. Dr Rodolfo Magni, who was a very insightful man, had the vision and foresight to purchase a large piece of land from a famer in Randfontein. This small mining town is situated due west of the city of Johannesburg. The property was located across from a French knitting yarn mill. Dr Magni knew that if this industrial area was good enough for the French it would be good enough for his family. The property was big enough for Aranda to grow from its humble beginnings into the modern plant that it is today, encompassing 11 acres under roof.
Crate By Crate
Dr Rodolfo and his two brothers, Mr Alberto and Mr Giulio Magni, both textile engineers, were a colourful, passionate and hardworking group of Italians. They started construction of the first Aranda factory buildings in 1951. The textile machinery arrived in large wooden crates and these crates were used to build the first offices. They toiled for 12-16 hours a day for two years before the first ever Aranda blankets were produced in 1953. From these humble beginnings the factory has expanded and grown into the business that it is today.
Producing Cultural Quality
Aranda Textiles manufactures a number of different products. From blankets and throws, to traditional shawls and blankets, the range is incredibly diverse. But what was the first ever Aranda product? The Magni’s initially started by making woollen shawls as their expertise and Italian heritage as textile manufacturers lay in woollen fabrics. It was not long after the first shawls were made that Aranda started to manufacture traditional South African travelling rugs. These checked rugs with fringes on the top and bottom were durable and warm and made a trustworthy travelling companion on ones journey. The rugs are still manufactured by Aranda today and are appropriately named the Italiano.
As a result of their woollen expertise, the founding family saw a lucrative gap in the market and also began manufacturing woollen fabrics such as tweeds, course jacket and over-coat materials during the late 50’s and early 60’s.
The 70’s saw the arrival of man-made fibres into the mainstream market. During this era the price of wool was becoming increasingly expensive and the decision was made to diversify Aranda into the spinning and weaving of man-made fibre products. Soon thereafter the first acrylic fibre shawl was produced using regenerated acrylic fibre.
When the 80’s came around it brought with it the arrival of the first jacquard looms to Aranda. Design possibilities had suddenly become endless and this heralded the beginning of the acrylic fur-pile bed and wearing blanket era. The striking designs and bright colours took the market by storm.
In the mid-eighties Aranda had grown to a size where the Physical Planning Act forced them to open a second plant. Aranda took advantage of the decentralisation benefits and opened a factory in Isithebe, KwaZulu-Natal. The factory, Associated Spinners, focused on the spinning and dyeing of open-end yarn and is still an integral part of the Aranda group today.
The early 1990’s is when Aranda started making the woollen Basotho blankets. Their long history and expertise in woollen spinning and weaving made them a natural fit to take over the legacy of producing such prestigious brands like the Seanamarena and Victoria England. During this period Aranda began spinning cotton/acrylic blends and acrylic micro-fibre. More recently Aranda has acquired a chenille plant and is one of only two spinners of chenille yarn in South Africa.
Aranda is today, the only genuine fully vertical, manufacturer of blankets and throws in South Africa. This means all products are created from raw fibre to finished goods ready to be merchandised. Raw materials are sourced both locally and internationally. These are then spun into yarns, which are dyed, woven and finished in a variety of quality blankets and throws.
A Basotho Background
The story of the Basotho Heritage Blanket can be traced to European traders and missionaries who came to Southern Africa as far back as the 1800's. It began with the father of The Lesotho Kingdom, King Moshoeshoe I. In 1860, King Moshoeshoe I was presented a woollen blanket as a gift. He was so taken with it, that he abandoned the traditional leopard skin kaross in favour of the blanket. The Basotho people soon followed their leader and to this day, the blanket is an integral part of their daily lives. It is also an essential feature of all important life events, from childbirth and marriage to initiation and the coronation of Kings. In 1865, when Queen Victoria gave her protection to Moshoeshoe’s kingdom at his request, he spoke of her as “spreading her blanket” over his country.
In 1897 Queen Victoria visited the then Basutoland during her Jubilee year. She gave King Lerotholi Letsie a blanket as a gift. The blanket was named the Victoria England. The Basotho people had a great love and respect for Queen Victoria and the Victoria England blanket has become a sought after status symbol. The Victoria England is the oldest of the Basotho blanket brands and includes many famous designs; for example the Badges of the Brave which was designed by Mr R.D. Shrubsole. He was inspired by the Basotho regiments who fought alongside the allies during World War II. The design features the various badges belonging to these regiments. However, through the years the Basotho have come to refer to this design as NZ, meaning Nazareth. This is more inclined towards their religious and Christian beliefs.
What makes the Basotho blankets unique is the layout of the design, the various symbols used, the bold colour combinations and the characteristic pin-stripe. This stripe was originally a weaving fault which has become a unique part of the design and dictates how the blanket is worn. When worn in the traditional manner, the pin-stripe runs vertically symbolising growth. Traditionally Basotho blankets are manufactured from wool which offers protection from the wind and rain and provides warmth in the high altitude of The Mountain Kingdom.
Did You Know?
Upon the wall of the Aranda foyer is a painting by Mr R.D. Shrubsole, which has a wonderful and unique history.
During a procession through the British protected Basutoland, Princess Elizabeth (now Queen of England) instructed the Royal photographer to take a photograph of a Basotho man on the side of the road wearing the famous Victoria England blanket, the Badges of the Brave. In England in 1948 Shrubsole then interpreted this photograph into a massive painting, measuring 2 x 3 metres. It hung on the wall at Wormalds and Walker in England, who were the original producers of the Victoria England blanket. Frasers Limited, the then sole distributor of the Victoria England blanket, persuaded them to send the painting to South Africa. When Frasers was absorbed by Metro, the painting ended up in Lesotho. During the riots in Lesotho in the 80’s many stores were burnt down and the famous painting was damaged. For many years thereafter it lay neglected and abandoned. Fortunately, Tom Kritzinger, Aranda’s Head of Sales and Marketing, found the torn and tattered painting in a warehouse in Maseru and took it back to Aranda, where the Basotho blankets were now being produced. It took 9 months to restore the painting to its original glory.
In 2012 the British Museum in London had an exhibition on African textiles and the Basotho heritage brands featured prominently. The famous Victoria England and Seanamarena blankets were proudly on display. There is now a permanent exhibition at the British Museum of these two iconic Basotho blanket brands.
Aranda’s story illustrates how the diversity of culture and heritage, combined with hard work and passion has created the unique range of products that are manufactured by Aranda today. We have an impressive showroom which not only tells the Aranda story but showcases our capabilities and diversity of products. There is a carousel on which 117 bed blankets are displayed and at the push of a button these blankets come spinning into view.
We are proud of where we have come from. We are proud to be where we are today. And most of all we are proud to call ourselves Aranda – The Fashion Name in Blankets!