Noos: an Eco-friendly Social Business to Support Women in Mongolia
The social business Noos ( which means wool in Mongolian) aims to give nomad women work in the winter months – Soft wool yarns will be produced from yak hair
Mongolia is one of the last countries in the world where men and women still live a nomadic lifestyle in close contact with nature and animals.
Nature is hostile in this country with long winters and temperatures falling below -30 C degrees. Animals are the primary income and subsistence for these people. In the immense and spectacular steppes, goats, sheep, camels and yak live in freedom.
Due to the difficult living conditions, the number of nomadic people has dropped in recent years. Cold and stormy winters have caused heavy losses of livestock. Over the last fifteen years, the percentage of people living in poverty is constantly around 30%. Many women, especially in rural areas, do not have a paid job. In remote areas of Mongolia, it is almost impossible to find a job or a secondary activity, except for sheep farming.
Yak and eco-sustainable wool, a job for nomadic women
The goal of our social business is to create employment for nomadic women by spinning and making very soft luxury balls of wool and threads. Finished products will be sold in the Swiss and International markets. Animals are a very important for the economic development of nomads and therefore they will also be the primary source of this project.
First of all the yak: this cattle produces milk that is used for making butter, cheese and sweets. From its long fur it’s possible to make wool. In Mongolia, there are 3.8 million specimens of cattle living in the whole country, more than the human population that exceeds just 3 million people.
Thanks to the use of special combs that respect and do not hurt the animal, this precious material, called in the local language “khoovor” can be obtained. The combs are provided by the “Green Gold” project, which was realized with the help of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation and supported by the Swiss Consulate in Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.
Noos: The social business in concrete terms
Thanks to the support of the NGO “La Mensa e il gregge” based in Canton Ticino, Switzerland, and with the support from investors and donors we plan to launch our social business, which will involve initially the training of 30 women in hand spinning for the production of yarn balls.
We will provide this group of women all the necessary tools for spinning which are compatible with their nomadic life to produce sustainable yarn balls from natural wool respecting the animals. After the pilot project in the first year, we aim to train about 300 women in five years.
Nomad women have more time in the winter months, since they have to stay in the “gher” (tents) due to the cold weather, as a result they can engage in manual work and have a fair and stable income. Noos has been designed with a two-fold goal to support nomad women and create ecologically sustainable products.
The yarn balls will then be sold in Europe, where the demand for pure yak wool is growing. Every woollen yarn will tell the story of the woman who produced it and it will be possible to know all the details of the supply chain, including the company that was in charge of washing and carding the raw material.
What is the story behind yak wool?
Yak wool is soft, but that’s not it. It is also more ecologically sustainable than cashmere coming from the cashmere goats, a product in high demand in the textile industry which drove nomads to raise the goats in large numbers and to overgrazing. These animals, in fact, eradicate not only grass but also its roots, causing major damage to the country’s ecosystem which is increasingly confronted with desertification. The yak in no way ruins the land.
Our trip and encounters
During our last trip to Mongolia, we met the yak herders and visited the processing factories, where the combed wool will be washed and carded. We identified the people who will supply the raw material with a fair remuneration and we were able to personally verify that animals are treated with great respect. In the future we plan to include in our social business camels and sheep as well which are also local eco-friendly animals. We will promote our initiative and products through the creation of a website.
In addition to luxury yarn, we will provide various handmade knitting patterns for customers who enjoy making handmade crafts and at the same time we will be able to help women in Mongolia to increase their income and improve their living conditions.
The social entrepreneurs
Alessandra is a journalist and works at RSI, Radiotelevision of Italian Switzerland. Responsible for the website’s foreign and editorial aspects, she also deals with a television broadcast in the field of information, taking care of the contents and the presentation on video. She has been collaborating for years with the Ticino based NGO “La mensa e il gregge” and has traveled several times in Mongolia.
Coty is a consultant in the sustainable textile sector with more than 25 years experience in the fashion and textile industry. She has created and edited a clothing line for the Ticino based NGO “Kam for Sud” which operates in Nepal and is a consultant for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation in the “Green Gold” project, regarding the yak and camel wool in Mongolia.