Yakety yak: The woman changing the Mongolian… | pebble magazine
Nancy Johnston has helped change the political and economic landscape of Mongolia, one of most remote and delicately balanced landscapes on earth. She’s done it by inventing an entire supply chain and a sustainable industry dedicated to turning yak fibres into a luxury clothing. Meet Tengri.
“I was sitting in this yurt in Mongolia and the mother had no milk for the tea, which is unheard of, she was so embarrassed. All their animals had died and she was working for another family, which is also unheard of as in a herder society everyone is independent,” she explains.
Johnston discovered that the family were trying to save for their daughter’s education, which after high school is only private, expensive and exists only in the capital, Ulaanbaatar. Rents there are as much as London and the schooling can cost up to 10,000.
“It didn’t seem right that a family in Mongolia, which supplies the luxury global fashion industry with cashmere, couldn’t afford an education, no matter how hard they worked,” she says.
She sketched out a vague plan on the back of a chocolate wrapped in the family’s yurt that night. Back in London she corralled fashion and design friends into helping her, thrashed out community development ideas and moved back to Mongolia.
“I bought a ton of yak fibre and shook hands with the head of the herders and that was that.”