This week our Menswear Dialogue Series takes us to the hills of Mongolia to meet a socially concious cashmere company making garments from the best cashmere in the world to give back to the people who actually harvest the stuff. We're pleased to introduce you to Naadam Cahsmere.
Image Granted -What is your title/trade/profession? How did you get into the business of cashmere and what keep you in it? What are you passionate about in life?
Matthew Scanlan -My title is Co-Founder and Co-CEO at Naadam Cashmere. My business partner Diederik Rijsemus and I started this business while we were undergraduates at Dickinson College. Diederik went abroad to Asia to study economics. He is the brains behind the concept and I am the passion.
We built this business in response to a problem we saw developing. Diederik traveled throughout Mongolia as part of this semester abroad. He spent much more time in Mongolia then he could have ever anticipated. He fell in love with the people and the unique culture around the Nomadic Mongolian herders. But while he was there they were also exposed to the plight of these amazing people. In short, these herders sit at the bottom of an industry that is in the process of destroying their culture and their nomadic way of life. Climate change is worse in Mongolia then any other place on the planet and it is making it harder for nomadic herders to maintain their herds; however, the cashmere industry is still perpetuating a very high demand.
At the end of the day families of nomadic herders are being forced to abandon their yurts and move to cities in search of more stable work. When drastic weather shifts kill large numbers of goats, herders can no longer harvest and sell their raw materials. Thus they cannot feed their families and instead of starving to death they leave the life that their ancestors have been living since the days of Kanghas Khan.
I am passionate about helping these people and that’s what Naadam is all about. We are creating luxury fashion that supports the people at the base of the supply chain. We do this through avenues of microeconomic development and in this case that avenue is Livestock insurance delivered through the World Bank program the IBLIP. That means that when the heard gets wiped out during a blizzard the family doesn’t have to worry because they are going to get reimbursed and make it to the next season. This is fashion with substance, there is a reason we are making beautiful cashmere garments. Its not just about looking good, it’s about feeling good.
IG -Where did the name Naadam originate? What do you mean by socially conscious cashmere? The best cashmere is widely known to come from either Mongolia or Scotland. These are vastly different countries. Why did you choose Mongolia? How does your manufacturing/processing etc. compare to others?
MS - Naadam is the name of the Mongolian festival that takes place every year throughout the country. In small towns and cities, people come together to celebrate the vibrant heritage of their ancestors. These festivals, which include wrestling contests, archery, and horse racing, have been taking place for over a thousand years. We chose to name our business after the games and festival that unify and represent the people we have come to admire and vowed to protect.
We are a socially conscious cashmere line because we are aware. We are aware of the issues and the people that are the base of our supply chain and we do everything we can to support them because no one else will. We want to expose the issues and we are doing that by making something that we all want: cashmere. For every garment purchased 10% of the profits go back into investment in the culture through livestock insurance. That means that roughly every sweater buys 1% of a $250 insurance premium covering a family for one year. The best cashmere in the world comes from Mongolia.
The climate (bitter cold and harsh winters) forces goats to grow undercoats with extremely thin fibers. You measure the thinness of a fiber through Microns. Human hair is about 120 Microns. For cashmere to be cashmere it needs to be below 19 Microns. The cashmere that Naadam harvests from our herders in Mongolia is 15.5 Microns. Very thin fibers create very soft garments.
There is much more involved with creating a beautiful cashmere garment. There are a number of variables and the micron is only part of the formula. Great manufacturing processes (new technology, weaving, and knitting machines) are very important. Good manufacturing creates tight, clean looking garments that don’t pill or fall apart. We make our garments to last so manufacturing is very important. In addition to microns and manufacturing we also adjust gauge (how loosely or tightly woven the garment is; thick or thin) and ply (how many strands are wrapped together. I.e. 2-ply is two strands intertwined; 4-play is 4 strands intertwined). When these variables are formulated in the right proportions you get a beautiful, soft, durable, garment.
IG -Naadam is currently on the e-commerce business model, although we hear you have recently fulfilled a wholesale order with Sterling & Burke in Washington DC. How did you relationship come about with S&B? What plans do you have for offering your products in DC?
MS - At Naadam we operate 70/30 meaning 70% of our business will come from ecommerce generated sakes and 30% from brick and mortar boutique sales. We are extremely selective about who we work with on the retail side. Naadam has substance, transparency, and integrity to our customers and suppliers we look for the same qualities in the boutiques we choose to work with. Thus, working with Sterling & Burke was a no brainer. We love the relationships they have cultivated with both their clients and vendors. The quality of the people that work there and the people they work with is really important to us. They have also curated a beautiful store that we are pleased to be a part of. Starting at the end of this month we will have a selection of our accessories—scarves, hats, gloves—as well as a small selection of sweaters. It is a great first step in building a long-term relationship. We have some other initiatives for the DC area but at the moment they are under wraps. We are now launching our kickstarter campaign where we will be offering a larger selection of what you will find at Sterling & Burke as rewards for donations!
IG -How does Naadam attract, recruit, and retain customers? What is your marketing strategy to reach you consumer market? Who is your customer in terms of demographic?
MS -Today Naadam is a brand focused on promoting change in the fashion industry. We have reimagined the business paradigm in luxury fashion. We focus on the base of our supply chain and the people and the culture that make up that base in order to provide beautiful garments imbued with substance to our customers. We want to support calculable, sustainable impact for our herders in Mongolia.
We attract customers who care about the way they look but also care about the way they feel. Naadam is more then just a cashmere business we are in the business of making a difference and doing things differently. Our garments are made to last but we design things that are adaptive and contemporary. Our customers are like us…Urban Nomads, young, aggressive, resourceful, intuitive and socially conscious. The lifestyle of our customer mirrors the lifestyle of our herders--always on the move, adapting to locations and circumstances.
We initially designed things for our friends, catering to their needs and wants. The idea was to make contemporary cashmere garments. There is a lot of cashmere out there but a lot of times its designed for someone else so we made things for our generation. Making a cashmere garment is a complicated process but we wanted to make things that were the best quality for the best price. Our sweaters and accessories don’t pill, they are made to last and get better over time. They also feel incredible and that’s huge. Your can wear these garments for days on end and they still look and feel amazing but actually fit better, its exactly what we also wanted in a garment. We are not claiming to be design or innovation geniuses but we made something we always wanted and we aren’t totally sure how we did it.
We are now in the process of launching our kickstarter campaign. It will launch on April 5th and last until May 5th. We are going to be selling all our garments on the site at wholesale prices. An amazing deal for an amazing garment with a unique way to make a difference and help us change luxury fashion for the better. All our marketing and sales efforts are going through kickstarter, we are throwing everything we have at this thing. It’s exciting but scary.
IG -What are plans for expansion? Does Naadam have any plans for brick and mortar? What is the ultimate goal and/or vision for your product and brand long term?
MS -Right now we are looking to expand on a larger ecommerce basis. We plan on doing a good portion of our business via our Naadam Cashmere web shop, which will go up after the kickstarter. Additionally, we are setting up strategic partnerships with local boutiques as a way to foster community with our customers. I don’t think it is in the cards yet to have the brick and mortar option. It is certainly not out of the question but we just can’t look that far ahead without loosing focus on what is right in front of us. We will be making some strategic partnerships with other online ecommerce website as well and the goal is really to create awareness and get people identifying with our brand. We want to grow organically; we are not interested in any short cuts or gimmicks. This business is our baby, so while it keeps us up at night the growth is incredibly rewarding!