Yaks are a key part of Himalayan life. They provide food, transport, milk and some of the finest wool on the planet.
Yak wool is a largely unknown but very special fibre. Nature has equipped yaks to survive at altitudes sometimes exceeding 5,000 metres. Such a harsh environment requires superior protection against the elements, and the wool from yaks is the main reasons why they are able to survive such extremes.
There are three three specific fibres yielded by yaks. The first is the long fibre traditionally used by nomads to make ropes and tents. This fibre exceeds 50 microns and would make very strong but extremely uncomfortable yarn and fabrics. This is the guard hair most visible on the animal. They also produce a mid-layer fibre which is usually between 25 microns and 50 microns, and although this fibre could also be also be spun into yarn, it would again be strong and uncomfortable.
The fibre that we collect is the down hair which is broadly defined as fibre smaller than 25 microns in diameter. Although fabric and yarn can be made using fibre of 25 microns, we focus on using fibre of between 17 and 19 microns to ensure that our garments are extremely soft and warm. We could also use finer fibre, but we believe that 17-19 microns gives us the right balance between softness and durability.
So why is yak such a great fibre?
Warmth - tests conducted during the 1980s showed the incredible insulating effect of yak. At an ambient air temperature of minus 18 degrees Celsius the animal's skin temperature was between eight and twenty degrees above zero depending on which part of the body the reading was taken from. It is little wonder that the yak is able to survive such harsh climates. Our own like-for-like tests conducted in an independent lab showed yak to be roughly 10-15% warmer than comparable merino fabric.
Odour Resistance - like other wools yak resists odour by absorbing sweat and then evaporating it into the air. Yak is also anti-microbial, so it won't attract the small microbes that live off sweat and build up on the surface of some fibres. This translates into a garment that doesn't smell when you're on the road and time or circumstances don't allow for fresh laundering.
Breathability - in order for a garment to "breathe" it must be able to absorb moisture and release it into the air. Yak wool, like other wools, has a remarkable capacity to absorb moisture from your body and release it into the environment. This avoids the sweaty or clammy feel often felt when wearing synthetic fibres.
Softness - most people are surprised to discover that an imposing animal like a yak can produce such fine wool. The uninitiated will often confuse its luxurious hand feel with cashmere. That's because hidden amongst the long strands of guard hair is the sub 19 micron down that gives yak fabric such a great feel and makes it a perfect staple for fighting off the winter chills.
Strength - one largely unknown quality of yak wool is its strength. It has been shown to contain higher levels of sulphur-based proteins and amino acids than sheep fibre, which is believed to be one of the reasons why tests conducted on the fibre show higher strength than sheep wool of the same diameter.
Resistance to Static - all wools naturally resist static but yak wool is particularly good at it, performing better than comparable cashmere fibres under similar conditions. This means yak wool garments are far less likely to spark or cling to the body than garments made from more common fibres.