While growing up near the main trading centers of Kathmandu, the one thing I saw more frequently was the bundles of well displayed yak wool shawls around the temples of Indrachowk. The colorful array of shawls laid one upon another, the constant visits of customers inquiring about the shawls, the loud calls the shop keepers made to attract shoppers and all the hustle and bustle of the town, I was awe struck with the scene which is so clear even after 25 years today. My mom told me that the shawls were made of Yak wool. The only thing I knew about Yak was that it was only found in the highest altitude regions and had thick fur to protect it from the harshest winters. ( image source (http://flipnomad.com/2015/01/busy-colorful-indra-chowk-market/))
I had an uncle who too had a shop with huge quantities of Yak wool shawls. I wanted to know more and inquired about the process. He thought I was too small to explain everything and instead gifted me a woolen neck scarf and instructed to wear it every day in the wintersand I will know what Yak Wool is like. He said I will never ever feel cold wearing the scarf. And as a small child, immensely happy with the gift, I made it a habit to wear it every single day and brag about it.
And now, when I look around, I find more of synthetic shawls and wrong practices applied by sellers. It’s has become very hard and virtually impossible for shoppers to know the quality of these shawls. Out of every 10 shops I visit, 8 of them show me acrylic shawl and tell me that its yak shawl and believe me or not, the prices are real cheap. Just imagine, wool coming from a long haired bovine living in the high altitudes regions, which is so hard to breed and has been losing habitat and has to migrate for better feeding ground every now and then, is so inexpensive that it is cheaper than a cotton wrap. Impossible, right? Yup!!! Impossible. The shawls are not yak shawls but just acrylic cotton blend shawls. Just the namesake, nothing more, nothing less.
Just so you know, we have complied little facts about Yak and the wool which we believe will help you differentiate between a yak wool shawl and an acrylic blend.
Yak is a long haired bovine mainly found in the Himalayan region of Nepal and Tibet and some parts of Mongolia and Russia. They are found in regions which are severely cold during the winter which is why they have adapted to live in such cold temperatures. Yaks have been domesticated by nomadic tribes in Nepal and Tibet for their milk, meat, wool and also for carrying logistics. Nomads in Nepal and Tibet have been known to cultivate Yak Wool to make ropes, tents, clothing, bags and accessories for more than thousand years.
Yaks have three different coats of wool. They can be divided as follows:
- Outer layer or Course: The long thick fiber which is course in nature making it very strong is generally best to make tents or ropes with much tensile strength.
- The Central or Mid Type: This layer of fiber is generally not strong like the Outer layer or Course to make ropes or tents and also not so fine or warm to qualify for clothing or accessories. This wool is mostly used to make sacks or bags.
- The Inner or The Down: Having to survive in temperatures reaching up to -40°C, the Inner or The Down fiber helps yaks keep themselves warm. The Down fiber is considered one of the softest and warmest fibers in the world and is considerably better than cashmere as per recent surveys.
Yak wool products have recently started to gain much popularity as warm clothing and accessories. Having said that, we should be very aware that not all Yak Wool clothing and accessories are made using 100% yak wool, yak wool products made using The Inner or The Down are one of the rarest and most expensive winter products which normally would fetch an exclusive market price.The yak wool products from Nepal are not 100% made out of yak wool. The yak wool is generally scratchy and is a bit harsh to touch. Only the down is used to make shawls and as said before, these would cost a fortune. There was a limited market from the early days and even today, so the real yak wool shawl can just about fulfill the demands. The limited supply of yak down makes it even more lucrative to trade which results in high prices. So for the general market, yak wool is just a brand name given in Nepal. Yak wool shawl does not necessarily consists of yak wool or any other wool. Most shawls now are made using imported Sheep Wool from New Zealand and acrylic fiber. Normally the blend is 70% New Zealand Sheep Wool and 30% Acrylic fiber to integrate the warmth, supple feel and smooth texture. This blend maintains the Thermo-balance characteristics of the product. This wool can capture 30% of the moisture and features high on the breathability factor of the material.
It is also not true that Yak Wool Shawls or accessories have strong odor. Unless combined with bacteria that live on the skin, Yak wool is odorless.
As you now know the characteristics and the blend of Nepalese Handloom Yak wool Shawls and accessories, it would be easier for you to feel the difference when you buy one. The yak wool will be super warm as it captures air pockets in between the fibers; the heat transfer rate is reduced. The feel will be soft and supple.
So next time when you are buying a yak shawl or just a wool shawl, you know what to ask your seller. Be upfront and ask them if the shawl is yak shawl, wool blend shawl or just acrylic. You will only find these three variations in the market normally. So it’s quite easy.
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