Back to the origins
Far away, in an area extending from Mongolia to the Tibetan plateau through the Pamir region and the Nepalese Himalayan region, with altitudes up to 6,000 meters, there are animals which are mostly unknown to the West, but which local populations consider sacred. It’s the yaks. Nomadic peoples, for example in Tibet, or herdsmen like the Sherpas from Nepal traditionally breed them and worship them, because yaks provide them with everything necessary for work and survival. They are used as beasts of burden in the trade and to draw ploughs in the agriculture, but they also provide meat and milk, as well as fiber used to make tents, ropes, blankets and garments.
The yaks are huge bovines: in Asia, only elephants and rhinos are bigger than they are, and their long, shaggy hair adds to their dimensions. The coat is divided into three layers, whose composition varies according to the season and which are very useful when temperatures reach 40 or 50 degrees below zero. However, what’s even more surprising is that their coat has been recently transformed into one of the finest wool fabrics on the market.
Thanks to its unique characteristics and to its unexpected qualities, the yak wool has becoming a competitive alternative to cashmere wool in the luxury market. Actually, under that shaggy superficial layer, which is used in tent-making, and under the mid-type layer, there is an extremely fine fiber, as fine as or even finer than cashmere. It is shiny, soft and light, as well as warmer than merino wool, and incredibly long lasting and hard-wearing. Besides, the yak wool is naturally endowed with different hues of color, which are often preserved thus considerably reducing dyeing processes: yak wool fabrics range from black to dark brown and to the rarer golden and white, the most prized.
A sustainable future
What’s more, yak wool perfectly matches the idea of eco-friendly ethical fashion and of sustainable textile production supporting the local economy. Indeed, the wool production does not harm yaks. They don’t have to be shorn, because the soft fiber naturally detaches itself in spring, when it is removed, then spun and woven. In addition, the production of scarves, shawls and sweaters can become and is becoming a way to develop local economy by transforming a traditional, raw but precious material into a product of fine craftsmanship.