Yaks are covered in three types of fiber. Two are long and coarse, but the third is soft and supple. This underneath fiber keeps yaks warm during periods of punishing cold experienced at high elevations in Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.
Yak wool isn’t shorn. Instead it begins to fall off the animals’ bodies in the spring. A comb easily collects it. And Stefan Warnaar is using it to build baselayers for his new company Peak to Plateau.
Warnaar first encountered yaks while traveling in May 2015. He saw a few companies making scarves and beanies from yak fiber, but he didn’t see local herders using it or selling it because no one was buying it, or even interested in buying it.
In December 2015, Stefan started Peaks to Plateau, a company named in honor of the geography of the Himalayas and the Tibetan Plateau. This region is where Stefan is sourcing the fiber for his yak wool clothing.
Stefan is currently running a Kickstarter to raise money to produce three baselayers made of yak wool. One is a long sleeve ¼ zip, one is a long sleeve crew shirt and the last is a t-shirt. The clothing he’s creating is a blend of 65 percent yak and 35 percent Tencel, which comes from a Eucalyptus tree.
Yak fiber is warmer, softer and more breathable than merino wool. It is also less irritable to those sensitive to sheep wool.
While the outdoor industry continued to innovate when it came to most gear, baselayers, especially those created from natural fibers, remained unchanged, Stefan said.
“Every company was using the same fabric and claiming that their process or technology was better, but the results were always the same,” Stefan said.
Peak to Plateau’s yak wool clothing are meant for active pursuits, from hiking to skiing to running to climbing. The lightweight fabric keeps you warm during easy activity, but won’t make you overheat when you up the intensity.
“Our baselayers come into their own on longer trips where you are wearing the same clothing all day, every day and you want something that feels fresh every day,” Stefan said.
A garment needs to do its job, but stay out of your way, Stefan said. That’s why Peak to Plateau’s shirts feature a slim fit and raglan sleeves, which allow for easy arm and shoulder movement. Seams are placed off the shoulders to avoid rubbing when wearing a backpack – and, to prevent chaffing, they are flat stitched. The torso is long and the long-sleeved shirts have thumb holes for keeping your hands warm.
“A lightweight baselayer should have a combination of warmth, durability, comfort, breathability, and odor resistance,” Stefan said. “We have achieved this with our fabric.”
Eventually Stefan wants to create a range of pieces, including leggings, underwear, sock and gloves. He also wants to create a line that includes hoodies, sweaters and maybe even a jacket. And, with all of his yak wool clothing he wants to provide another source of income for Tibetan herders, who traditionally have used yaks for milk, transport and meat, but didn’t have a reason to harvest the fiber.