For decades, cashmere has been king in the world of luxury fabrics. But now, there is a new sustainable alternative – Yak wool. Cashmere production begins with a lot of goats and often in a fairly limited area. Their little hooves rapidly impact the terrain not allowing to restore itself. Heavily tramped soil combined with overgrazing have led to desertification in areas of high cashmere production, such as Mongolia. And although, the spread of goats has been harming the environment, significant climate change as also desolated the area.
Therefore, the solution is Yak fibre – is the natural wool produced from the coat hair of yaks (Bos grunniens). The mostly keep their roaming within the Himalayas, Tibetan Plateau, and some areas of Mongolia and Central Asia. Yaks have a much gentle step, reducing the potential for over-trampled grounds and help save the herder families’ nomadic lifestyle. Every spring, yaks naturally shed their silky undercoat and is harvested by combing which is then cleaned and spun into ultra-fine yarns. Yak is among the most luxurious and expensive yarns in the textile world, since each yak produces only a pound or two of it each year.
Yak fibre is extremely fine and soft making it the perfect sustainable cashmere alternative. Its smoothness is due to the fact that every animal’s hair has a different surface texture, and yak down coat under a microscope looks scally. These scales fit tightly against the surface of the hair shaft, which makes it feel very smooth and consequently soft. It also makes it more difficult to spin into yarn, but this problem is offset by its high commercial value. Another reason for yak being so soft is its crimp.
Crimp means the bends or folds in a fibre. Yak down coat has so much crimp that it looks like a coiled spring that has been mashed flat. Crimp assigns three qualities to a fibre: bounce, loft and creates warmth (when mixed with other fibres). These qualities together produce one of the softest, lightest, fluffiest and most luxurious fabrics the world.
In terms of thermal-balance, yak wool outperforms sheep wool. It can preserve warmth in the winter, even when wet, yet breathes for comfort in hotter weather. Air pockets are created between the fibres that reduce the rate of heat transfer. Yak is breathable fibre, it is able to absorb water and release it to the air.
Yak yarn is extremely durable, lightweight and completely odourless due to its anti-microbial feature which prevent bacteria from living on sweat. Other properties include static-resistance, hypoallergenic and non-irritating as it does not contain animal oils or residue. The yarn can be washed with a gentle detergent.