What is it about Yak Wool? Santosa's best selling products are the Himalayan 'Yak Wool' Wraps and, in their larger size, the Himalayan 'Yak Wool' Blankets. Both remain our biggest sellers from when we first began trading in 2010. Light weight, versatile and extremely warm they come in a range of fantastic vibrant colours.
Perfect for yoga and meditation. We regularly supply yoga studios with them including Vale de Moses Yoga Retreat Centre in Portugal, as well as kitting out our own studio here in Edinburgh. As I'm never without one myself I can understand why everyone loves them. But why do so many people want to believe that they are genuine Yak wool - the Himalayan Holy Grail of textiles?
Walking through Kathmandu you pass mountain upon mountain of vibrantly coloured blankets and wraps piled up outside the shops in the popular tourist areas. Snapped up by the suitcase-full, they are known as yak wool shawls in Nepal - and the very softest advertised as '100% Baby Yak Wool'!
Available in such large quantities, sold at the cheapest of prices and coming in the widest range of vibrant colours. Back home, throughout Europe and America, the very same product is sold under the same banner - 'Yak Wool'. How is such mass production of a limited natural fibre possible?
The Himalayan Yak, a close relative of the cow and buffalo, is found only in the higher altitudes of the Himalayas. Vital to the lives of the people who live there, small family groups have used the domesticated yak for thousands of years as a source of nourishment, transportation, textiles and fuel. Their seasonal nomadic lifestyle is adapted to migrate up and down the mountains following the melting of the snows and unveiling of the rich grazing lands during the warmer weather.
According to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Nepal currently has an estimated total of 20,000 domesticated yaks. Each can produce half a kilo of fine hair (Pu) and another half kilo of coarse hair (Chirpa) annually. This natural fibre, with its amazing qualities of water resistance, odour repellence and heat insulation, is clearly limited in supply. The main source of income from the yak herds is cheese. Yak wool isn't mentioned!
A number of scientific studies over the last twenty years report that the Yak population is in serious decline as Yak herders struggle to maintain their traditional lifestyle under the harsh conditions. Increasingly, they are moving to lower altitudes where the Yak hybrids (yaks bred with buffalos) can exist.
Yes, it is possible to find genuine yak wool textiles but they come with a hefty price tag that is relative to their scarcity. Factor in natural yak wool fibres' resistance to taking the colour dyes and that the majority of the textiles available are beyond scratchy!
The gorgeous, brightly coloured, widely available soft wraps, including our own, are not produced from yak wool. These are a clever blend of acrylic fibres woven into a cotton framework, sometimes on hand looms, other times in small factories. Once woven, they are brushed with stiff bristles to produce that super soft texture that we wish to believe comes from the under-coat of the yak - the ‘warmer than cashmere’ Holy Grail of the Himalayas.
As for those softest of soft shawls, the ones advertised as ‘Made from Baby Yak Wool’? Be warned – these are 100% acrylic, mass produced in neighbouring China and India and imported by the truck load into Nepal. Another lovely product, but not one Made in Nepal!