Many travelers to southern Africa don’t expect to encounter cold weather. But a trip here in July—winter in the southern hemisphere—prompts many visitors to head to Ntemi Piliso Street in downtown Johannesburg, known for its shops selling warm, woolen Basotho blankets.
Basotho blankets, a southern Africa winter mainstay, are winning some international attention in the fashion world. Lesotho-born designer Thabo Makhetha, who is 26 years old, makes a series of women’s capes and jackets from the blanket. Elle magazine’s editor for South Africa wore one of Ms. Makhetha’s designs, a black and white shoulder cape, to the Louis Vuitton Paris fashion week show this year.
U.S.-based retailer Anthropologie has stocked the Basotho blanket. And a Cape Town boutique, run by New Yorker Sean Shuter, has started to design bomber jackets from the blankets.
Locally, Basotho blankets are often worn to ward off the cold in the mountainous country of Lesotho, which sits inside South Africa. Men typically wrap the blankets like a cape, while women fold the thick wool from the back around their shoulders or around their waists.
Both beautiful and functional, Basotho blankets are given away as gifts at weddings or at initiation ceremonies for boys and girls entering adulthood. The King and Queen of Lesotho are regularly photographed in the blankets, which take their name from the nation’s people.
There are light pink blankets with turquoise stripes and heart patterns, and others in powder blue with golden yellow images of corn, which symbolizes wealth and fertility. South Africa’s platinum miners, many of whom hail from Lesotho, seem to favor Basotho blankets that are blue and black with red stripes.
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