A Nepalese mountain yak. Photograph by Toomas Tartes
Of all of the creatures who roam the freezing Tibetan Plateau, the goat is a lot better recognized to the style business than the yak. Goat cashmere, a prize export from the Central Asian steppe because the 18th century, is properly established as first a premium product, and now a mass-market product.
Latest elevated demand for cheaper cashmere has pushed specialist goat farming in China and Mongolia (the 2 greatest world producers) in the direction of rearing larger herds and overgrazing grasslands, diminishing the standard of the resultant fiber. This drives down costs and intensifies financial stress on farmers to develop their herds, entrenching a negative cycle of degradation.
Extra Sustainable Than Cashmere and Extra Artisanal Than Sheep’s Wool
Enter the brawnier, hunch-backed different: the yak.
The rarer yak has one thing helpful to supply: a downy undercoat fiber that’s simply as heat as cashmere, and way more sustainable to fabricate.
“Mongolia harvests practically 10,000 tons of cashmere, however solely about 100 tons of yak down yearly,” explains Betina Infante, who co-founded Hangai Mountain Textiles together with her husband Invoice. The model designs and sources high-end yak, cashmere, and camel blankets straight from Mongolia.
Although yaks are heavy beasts and might weigh as much as 1,000 lbs, they’re delicate eaters, Betina explains, that means they don’t uproot the pure steppe grasses. “A well-managed, numerous herd that features yak will are usually extra sustainable.”
By way of manufacturing, yak is mostly small-scale and fewer reliant on fossil-fuel processes. The nomadic Mongolian herders who rear yak comb out the down by hand, and are additionally extra prone to weave by hand, too.
The Infantes moved to Mongolia in 2006 to work for The Asia Foundation, an NGO targeted on financial and social improvement, touring extensively with their kids to among the remotest elements of the nation. A decade later, the household returned to the US and settled in Basalt within the Roaring Fork Valley, the place they stored heat on chilly evenings with Mongolian yak blankets. This heat finally germinated right into a enterprise thought.
By making a marketplace for Mongolia’s “extraordinary textiles” the Infantes additionally aspired to “assist protect rural livelihoods. By focusing our efforts on yak down, we finally hoped to encourage extra herders to lift yak and thereby encourage extra sustainable herding practices.”
Hotter Than Cashmere
Like mountain goats, the bovine yak can survive on grass, mosses, and ice soften by way of earth’s most inhospitable winters, because of its thick, shaggy coat of ‘guard hair’ that grows to knee-level over a finer layer of ‘down hair’, insulating in opposition to the altitudes the place it roams, sometimes increased on the mountain than the goat. Little shock, then, that yaks present among the warmest pure fibers harvestable anyplace.
I personal one merchandise of yak trend: a thick winter scarf gifted by a buddy who went trekking within the Nepalese mountains. By a long way, it’s the warmest accent in my total wardrobe. By way of trend’s warmth-to-cost ratios, it’s higher worth than a mountain-grade fleece or a Donegal wool jumper.
Longer Lasting Than Cashmere
I’ve discovered that yak doesn’t require frequent detergent washes, and it might probably stand up to inconsistent material care rather more readily than cashmere. My scarf has additionally lasted for years with out mottling or pilling.
Filippa K, the upscale staples model primarily based in Stockholm, has used yak since 2015. Jodi Everding, vice chairman of sustainability, says the model’s clients “recognize the longevity of our yak wool high quality. It’s smooth but retains its construction, it doesn’t capsule, and it’s very heat whereas sustaining breathability.” This aligns, she says, with Filippa Okay’s mission of “aware consumption: giving our clients the chance to put on and love their clothes for a very long time relatively than shopping for new every season.”
Finer Than Sheeps’ Wool
“Yak down might be akin to cashmere by way of size and fineness. It’s naturally hypoallergenic, and when well-processed, yields a wonderfully smooth product,” Betina says. It’s naturally anti-bacterial, too.
Goat cashmere fibers are between 14.5 and 17 microns thick, whereas yak fiber is about 19 to twenty microns, a distinction that may make yak really feel thicker than cashmere merchants’ ‘smooth gold’, regardless that yak is the extra breathable material.
When you battle with the scratchiness of untreated sheep’s wool, yak compares properly for softness, notably when blended with wool or cashmere. (Sheeps’ wool varies in thickness. Merino, for instance, might be as high-quality as 12-13 microns, however most breeds produce thicker fibers.) Yak is good for layering over different items with out introducing a perspiration hazard.
Solely Pure, Darkish Colours
Yaks have darker coats than cashmere-producing goat breeds, and the deep brown or darkish fawn fibers are tougher to deal with with synthetic shade dyes in consequence. This implies you’re extra prone to discover it in pure, deeper colours with flecks within the woven material, as an alternative of the rainbow of sweaters obtainable in cashmere.
The place to Purchase It
The place cashmere is a commonplace luxurious, obtainable at fast-fashion prices, pure yak and yak-blended items are solely simply beginning to trickle into the inexpensive mainstream. Elevating consciousness is a part of Hangai’s enterprise problem. “Most clients have by no means heard of yak down,” Betina says. “With out touching yak down, many, notably web shoppers, might be circumspect.”
So far, Hangai Mountain Textiles has targeted development on collaborations with US inside designers and boutique inns, together with Jeremiah Brent’s life-style retailer Atrio, WRJ Design and JanGeorge Interiors, all of whom have used HMT’s yak down throws in showcase and consumer tasks. Goop chosen Hangai’s fisherman’s knit yak down throw and different yak throws for his or her vacation catalog, Betina provides. “Slowly however absolutely we’re constructing consciousness.”
At this time, with a broad spectrum of manufacturers from H&M’s Arket to Muji, The Row and Parisian boutique designer LouLou Studio beginning to provide yak of their collections, you not must be an explorer to put on it.
Everding, Filippa Okay’s vice chairman of sustainability, says, “We supply yak hair from Tibet, and the breed of yak we use is named Bos Grunniens that are home. The yarn is spun in Italy the place it’s blended with Accountable Wool Normal licensed wool and recycled nylon, and the knitting takes place in Romania.”
For the chilly, moist months of the 12 months, items appropriate for layering reminiscent of Toast’s loose knitwear, Norhla snoods and huge wrap scarves are good yak buys, able to withstanding extra put on and tear than cashmere. Yak equipment are nice for journey too, with British model Tengri offering luxe options; they’re mild sufficient to pack and fold down neatly.
Don’t purchase yak clothes anticipating the standing semaphore of a cashmere jumper, nonetheless. In its pure type it doesn’t drape with fairly the identical ease as cashmere.
Yak wool is a quiet luxurious with endurance. Because the nights attract and temperatures drop, my yak wool scarf has come again into circulation. And it’s simply as reliable because it was once I first took off the reward wrap all these years in the past. If solely the identical could possibly be stated for my tired-looking cashmere jumpers.