Students show in-Tengri-ty by experimenting with yak yarn


Date: 30th Jan 2017

Second and third-year knitted textile students have been showing they have in-tengri-ty by working with the CEO of an ethical fashion label which works directly with yak farmers.

Nancy Johnston, of London-based Tengri, visited Buckinghamshire New University's BA (Hons) Textiles and surface studio on Monday (23 January) to look at work created by students using luxury yak fibre. She was so impressed that some will be incorporated into future designs for her label.

Tengri was born while Nancy was travelling and staying with herder families in Mongolia.  She became fascinated by the relationship between people, animals and the land, developing an understanding of the bond between the herder families' livelihoods, their yaks, and the country's landscape.

She discovered how the Khangai yak - an indigenous species in the Khangai Mountains of western Mongolia - could help preserve the traditional nomadic way of life. The native animals support biodiversity and help to prevent land desertification by allowing plant species and wildlife to regenerate and thrive.

Using her knowledge as a trained systemic social worker, Nancy wrote her first business plan on the back of a chocolate wrapper in a dimly lit ger (a Mongolian yurt).

Nancy explained: "Unlike most fashion brands we are a social business and it's really about creating a shift change within the industry. Tengri's social objective is to introduce yak into the fashion and textile industry with the aim to support the nomadic community halfway around the world, who supply the fibres, but also to create an environmental and social change.

"So part of our vision in creating that change is working with the future generation of designer makers, and education for me is a key component of that."

Students were set the task of working with the yak fibre to create knitted swatches using a variety of techniques.

Mongolia is the second largest supplier of luxury fibres in the world and yak fibre is a sustainable alternative to cashmere, it is water resistance, odour resistant and warmer than Merino wool. And to top it off, it helps sustain a whole community and protect the environment.

Zoe Miller, Pathway Leader Knit BA (Hons) Textiles and Surface Design, said: "The students were interested in the social conscience of Tengri, as well as the opportunity to try new yarns and explore structures and textures for interior fabrics. Live projects always bring challenges, Tengri has a strong ethical and sustainable ethos, so it meant some initial limitations on yarns and materials. This meant the students really had to explore problem solving with alternatives, to great effect."

Nancy spent the morning looking at the students' work and chatting about the fibre the company purchases from more than 4,500 nomadic herder families.

She said: "The best part of helping students is to enable and empower them to be confident with what they have to give. Often younger people underestimate their abilities so mentoring them, and seeing them flourish with that journey, is a rewarding process.

"I think it's really important for students and universities to create that direct path from graduating into the industry because if they don't have that journey then what are they going to do? They'll be left in the big bad world. So I think engaging with industry is a fantastic thing that Bucks New University does and I'm happy to be involved in that."

Zoe added: "Live projects are an important addition to the studio projects we offer at Bucks. The students are working to real briefs set by companies or designers and a real deadline. The experiences can offer new experimental opportunities or a chance to work more commercially. One of the main benefits is external feedback on the work they produce, which can help build knowledge and confidence for their future careers."

Watch a video of the Tengri visit here.