This is the sixth in a series of blog posts featuring the fabulous sponsors of Indie Untangled Everywhere, taking place from October 15-17, 2020.
When Indie Untangled first launched more than six years ago, it was mainly intended to be a marketplace and database of indie dyers who worked in their kitchens or studios. I’ve since expanded my own definition of “indie” to include socially-responsible companies that take a different approach to manufacturing luxury yarn. mYak is one of those indie enterprises that does things a little differently. The company also has a unique story that aligns with a strong set of values for yarn production.
Paola Vanzo, who runs mYak in partnership with Andrea Dominici, is also part of the fabric of the knitting community, hosting wonderful events in a bright, beautiful space in Manhattan’s West Village.
Tell us the story of how mYak came to be.
Born of a passion for, and commitment to the nomadic communities of the Tibetan Plateau, mYak weaves the natural strength of the Tibetan Plateau together with the finest Italian artisanal traditions. It is a project conceived from a deep understanding of Tibetan culture with the main aim to support the livelihood of Tibetan herders and the continuity of ancient traditions.
We (Paola and Andrea) know the nomadic herders of the Tibetan Plateau very well. We have been living and working with them for more than 20 years. By now we have become a bit nomadic, too. We have learned to appreciate their traditions, to respect what they love and believe in, to share their way of life and work. What we’re doing together is more than simply purchasing the fiber obtained from the combing of the baby yaks, the Cashmere goats and the Tibetan sheep. Together we are contributing towards the future of a nomadic population representing one of the most ancient in the world.
Our activities are equally imbued with care for people, animals, and the environment, as well as for the social and ethical values that characterize our entire chain.
How do you develop your bases and your colors?
The bedrock of our brand is our 100% Baby Yak that comes in two weights: Medium (worsted) and Lace. The yak shed naturally every year so there is no harm to the animal when the fiber is gently combed from their coat. We do not bleach our fiber and only dye our colors on the natural bases which gives all colors a natural heathered look. Our other lines are Baby Yak/Silk a 50/50 blend in a light fingering weight and Tibetan Cloud in light DK from a local breed of sheep. For Indie Untangled, we are launching a new base of 100% Tibetan Cashmere in both Lace and Medium.
Our palette of colors is inspired by the colors of the landscape of the Tibetan Plateau, the holy lakes and high peaks, the grassland with its beautiful flowers, the traditional architecture and the monasteries, but we also get lots of our inspiration from Tibetan art, both traditional and modern. We try to create colors that work very well together and can easily be mixed and matched.
How much yarn does your company produce each year?
We source our fiber directly from the cooperative of nomads we work with and each year we try to increase our support to them and buy more, but being a small brand it is not always possible for us to buy large quantities. The yaks are mainly of a beautiful dark chocolate color and the lighter fiber is not as available as the dark, so we try to balance out production every year. Last year we produced around 8,000 skeins per line.
Paola, I know you’ve recently learned to knit! How has that been coming along?
I actually learned to knit when I was very young but gave that up when I started high school and never touched a needle until few years ago when I decided I wanted to knit a baby blanket for a friend of mine. I started again with few simple projects and now I’m in love with it again and wish I could knit all day long. I’m learning from some of the most talented designers we are working with and I’m so grateful for their time and patience.
What are some of the most interesting things you’ve learned as you’ve entered the yarn and knitting world?
When Andrea and I decided to found mYak we had no clue about the fiber and knitting industry but we (well, more me) felt immediately at home in this community. We had to learn everything from scratch and in several languages as well as we are an Italian brand with a base in both Italy and New York. One of the things that we learned is how yarn and fiber has a language of its own, overcomes barriers of backgrounds, languages and colors and truly can bring people together, create connection and sooth your soul.
mYak is more than a yarn brand, it’s a social enterprise, and we learned that a lot of people really care where their yarn is coming from, whether it is ethically sourced and whether it is processed in a way that’s environmentally friendly.
Can you talk about some of the business challenges you’ve had to overcome during the pandemic?
This could be a very long answer, but the pandemic hit us for the longest as it started in China, so the entire Tibetan Plateau was on lockdown with us not being able to go there to work with the nomads in sourcing the fiber and having all the exporting blocked. Luckily Tibetans were not as affected by COVID as in mainland China and all the people we know were safe.
The economic situation was bad, though, so we decided to order way more fiber than we normally would to help the nomads, thinking that wholesale business around the world would pick in in few months. We were wrong about that! Once things eased up in Tibet and we finally managed to export the fiber, Italy went into a strict lockdown for months so production was halted. Then the pandemic got really bad in New York and we closed down our showroom here and stopped all the events. But we, like many others, are resilient and we came up with alternative ways to reach people, through live chat on Instagram and YouTube and attending virtual events like Indie Untangled.
Can you share some of your plans for Indie Untangled Everywhere?
Indie Untangled for us has always (well, for two years now) been the special event were we would launch our new fall yarn collection. Last year we launched our new Tibetan Cloud and this year we are very excited about launching our new line of Tibetan Cashmere called Ra-ku – Fiocco di Cashmere.
This is Cashmere with a character you haven’t experienced before. Our Cashmere is obtained from the spring combing of Tibetan cashmere goats, reared by some of the families who belong to our cooperatives and who live in the mountains’ most extreme and poorest areas.
Our Tibetan Cashmere is a fiber over 36 mm long and with a gauge below 14.5 microns, characteristics that make it a yarn of absolute excellence. The yarn is spun with the perfect balance of ease to allow the yarn to bloom while still securing the fibers.
What are some of your favorite FOs you or your customers have made with your yarn?
The list is long but I would say anything from our favorite designers, from Olga Buraya-Kefelian and Julie Hoover, Jennifer Steingass, Kirsten Kapur, Sarah Solomon, Isabell Kraemer, Melanie Berg, Caitlin Hunter and Andrea Mowry. I loved Dover Lane by Kirsten Kapur and I really enjoyed Time Trades by Caitlin Hunter in our Baby Yak Silk, NUUK by Jonna Hietala being my first sweater. Right now on my needles I have Goldwing by Jennifer Steingass, my first yoked sweater and hope to have it done in time for IU Everywhere.