Mohair usually refers to a silk-like fabric or yarn made from the hair of the Angora goat. The word "mohair" was adopted into English before 1570 from the Arabic mukhayyar, a type of haircloth, literally 'choice', from khayyara, 'he chose'. Mohair fiber is approximately 25-45µ in diameter. It is one of the oldest textile fibers in use. It is both durable and resilient. It is notable for its high luster and sheen, and is often used in fiber blends to add these qualities to a textile. Mohair also takes dye exceptionally well. Mohair is also warm as it has great insulating properties. It is durable, moisture-wicking, stretch and flame resistant, and crease resistant.
Mohair is composed mostly of keratin, a protein found in the hair, wool, horns and skin of all mammals. While it has scales like wool, the scales are not fully developed, merely indicated. Thus, mohair does not felt like wool does.
Mohair increases its diameter with the age of the goat, growing along with the animal. This means fine hair from younger animals is used for finer applications such as clothing, and the thicker hair from older animals is more often used for carpets and heavy fabrics intended for outerwear.
The term mohair is sometimes used to describe a type of material used for the folding roof on convertible cars. In this instance, mohair refers to a form of denim-like canvas. Also, in Poland, mohair berets, which are particularly popular with elderly women, have become a symbol of bigotry and are usually associated with the ultra-Catholic Radio Maryja. Mohair should not be confused with the fur from the angora rabbit, which is called angora wool.
Until 1849 the Turkish province of Ankara was the sole producer of Angora goats. Charles V is believed to be the first to bring Angora goats to Europe. Due to the great demand for mohair fiber, throughout the 1800's there was a great deal of crossbreeding between angora goats and common goats. The growing demand for mohair further resulted in attempts on a commercial scale to introduce the goat into South Africa (where it was crossed with the native goat) in 1838, the United States in 1849, Australia from 1856-1875, and later still New Zealand. In 1849 Angora goats made their way to America as a gift from Turkey.
Today South Africa is the largest mohair producer in the world, with the majority of South African mohair being produced in the Eastern Cape. The United States is the second largest mohair producer, with the majority of American mohair being produced in Texas.
Mohair is also used in 'climbing skins' for randonnee skiing. The mohair is used in a carpet allowing the skier an appropriate ascension method without sliding downhill.
During World War II, U.S. soldiers wore uniforms made of wool. Worried that domestic producers could not supply enough for future wars, Congress enacted loan and price support programs for wool and mohair in the National Wool Act of 1954 as part of the 1954 Farm Bill. Despite these subsidies, wool and mohair production declined. The strategic importance declined as well: the US Military adopted uniforms made of synthetic fibers such as dacron and officially removed wool from the list of strategic materials in 1960. Nevertheless, the U.S. government continued to provide subsidies to mohair producers until 1995 when the subsidies were "eliminated effective with the marketing year ending December 31, 1995." In The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad Fareed Zakaria points out that the subsidies were reinstated a few years later due in large part to the lobbying on behalf of the special interests of the subsidy recipients. By 2000, Congress had appropriated $20 million for goat and sheep herders. As of 2002, mohair producers were still able to receive special assistance loans from the U.S. Government after an amendment to eliminate the subsidy was defeated. This program is widely cited as "pork barrel" legislation.