Why is our yak wool so meaningful to us?
After launching our classic yak wool scarves in all three natural shades we would like to explain you a little bit more why it is such a big accomplishment for us. Each year in the summer, we source yak wool from the nomad community in Kharnak.
In Ladakh, the yak appears in 3 different colors: dark brown which is the most common, beige which is less common and the rarest, the white yak, its wool can sometimes have a tint of grey, too.
Yaks have always played a big part in the life of the nomads. Their wool was precious and they were the means of transport during the many moves each year. Even now, the group of nomads we work with still moves 7 times a year. Thats why the yak is such a help for the nomadic community. However today, the possessions of the nomads are no longer transported by yak but by car.
On average, a family owns about 30 yaks. Approximately half of them live in the mountains almost all year around whereas the smaller yaks and mothers return each day after grazing to the nomads camp.
However, the yak population is decreasing as people are keeping less and less yaks as they are no longer required for transporting the belongings. Some families do not even have a white yak, some have only one. The beige yak wool is very popular among the families themselves.
Therefore, hard to find these colors. It is a beautiful yet challenging way of requesting the people to sell us some of this precious fiber. We have to be very kind, saying “juju” (Ladakhi: please) many many times before the nomads are ready to sell.
Once lucky enough to find a few kg (always less than 10kg for khampa, for white only around 5kg each year) the sorting and washing takes a lot of time. Sorting by hand, separating the coarser hairs from the soft “khullu”, which has a micron of around 16, just a bit higher than cashmere. Already in this process we have only 50% maximum left of what the initial weight was. Yak wool is always very dusty as the yaks like to lay down on the ground and rest and often scratch their backs by rolling around in the dust
Once the sorting is done, we are washing the wool by hand, only with biodegradable soap as with all our other wools. In this step there is less of a loss as most of the dust comes out during sorting
Now comes a very time intensive and risky job: dehairing the yak wool by machine at our workshop. Out of our ambition to get the softest yak wool we can with our entirely natural way of processing we put the yak wool up to 6 times through our dehairing machine. Each time we loose more of the coarser fibers and are left with about 30% of what we have put through the machine.
Of course, we do not ‘loose’ this wool as we use it in our carpets. However, the amount of soft khullu of each kilogram of yak wool is very low.
The next step is the hand spinning and weaving, the same process as with our other textiles. Here the spinning of yak wool is more challenging as the fiber is shorter and therefore breaks more often during spinning. After weaving, the finishing is done and then a little wash by hand.
The finished products of our white and khampa yak wool are so precious to us. We look back at the days of work, starting with the sourcing itself and all the steps which follow.
We hope that like this, we can bring you this work closer and that you feel more connected to the origin and the process of making one scarf. Let’s see how much of these precious wools we are able to source next year, it’s always a mystery :)
Find all our yak wool textiles here: https://www.wearekal.com/collections/all/yak-wool