Seeing tangible progress with the villages and shepherds in which we’ve invested so heavily is always encouraging. For example, we’ve been collecting cashmere in the Chong Alai valley since 2013, and have seen a huge shift in the process during the last 5 years.
At first, the shepherds were not familiar with the process of combing goats rather than shearing. Much of the fiber was full of coarse guard hair instead of clean cashmere, and the mix of fiber quality from great to poor was more pronounced.
Since then, combing has become the standard means of collecting cashmere and the majority of people are bringing in very cleanly combed fiber. Overall, we are seeing a greater consistency in the quality of the fiber.
As the people of Chong Alai gained an understanding of what the world market for cashmere demanded in terms of quality, the shepherds became more proactive and intentional with their approach. For instance, many have kept the goats which produce the best fibers and have sold off those producing poor quality fiber for meat at local markets.
As our business grows, we hope to increase the volume of fiber that we purchase so that we can expand into new regions around the country, replicating the success we’ve had in Chong Alai to improve fiber production elsewhere.
There was one event this spring that adversely affected many households in the Chong Alai valley: on May 3rd, there was a 6.6 earthquake that struck just west of the region. Many houses suffered damage, displacing those who were reticent to live in their homes during the many aftershocks that followed the quake. Many set up yurts or tents next to their homes, preferring to sleep there just in case another earthquake happened during the night.
Incredibly, there was no loss of life, but the damages to property are a heavy burden in addition to the financial strains already affecting the population. In the aftermath, we were unable to collect as much cashmere from these villages, as they were busy rebuilding and didn't have time to comb their goats. Our manager, Kanat, was able to take out some food supplies to households; our coordinators helped identify those who were hit the hardest to provide what relief we could.
In spite of the the earthquake, we were able to collect as much fiber as previous years, and the collection season concluded smoothly. We also began gathering information from other areas where we could begin collecting in 2018. By making shepherding economically viable and teaching them how to produce better quality fibers, our mission to distinguish Kyrgyz cashmere as one of the world’s finest fibers continues with each new shepherd.
Below, a map of the villages where we collect cashmere fiber in Kyrgyzstan.