Nancy Johnston, Tengri's CEO & Founder, reflects on a significant meeting of minds to preserve natural capital.
I was thrilled to be invited to attend the first global meeting of the Responsible Ecosystems Sourcing Platform (RESP) at Burberry’s Global Headquarters in London in April. RESP is a non-profit and member-based organisation founded by some of the world’s top luxury brands.
How did I, a former charity worker, someone devoted to helping people, start a fledgling fashion brand and end up in the same room with some of the top global luxury fashion brands? I am still reflecting on this.
More intriguingly, the event was not about luxury fashion (thank goodness!). The meeting was to discuss bio-diversity and land management issues – and their impact on people. Since I have dedicated my life’s work to helping people, I was struck to see how equally passionate attendees at this event were about preserving our natural capital. Yet equal to that passion was a feeling of frustration.
Part of the reason for Tengri’s invitation was to participate in the working stream that focuses on woollen fibres. Tengri started out as an idea to help Mongolian nomadic herders by directly purchasing yak fibres from cooperatives of herder families, set up with the support of the Swiss Development Agency for Cooperation (SDC). This NGO has supported greater democratisation and sustainable socio-economic development in Mongolia for the past 50 years.
With the amazing support of my friends and a wider network of caring people, I figured out how to go from purchasing the raw fibre directly, to processing it, spinning it into yarns, weaving it into fabrics, to working with designers, knitters, tailors and manufacturers and making clothes.
Many of the issues faced by premium and luxury brands are rooted in the supply chain. Problems include an inherent lack of transparency, honesty, integrity and traceability from the source of the raw materials to the fabric production before top fashion houses purchase it.
How can fashion brands really be accountable when they can’t be sure what they are purchasing? And how can we create change and ensure what we buy doesn’t damage the earth, animals or people who live in it?
I think we all have a part to play.
In the case of cashmere, our desire for luxury softness fuels this much-desired fibre, driving demand to unsustainable levels. This results in other wild animals being killed – the ultimate "fashion victims”. Mongolia and China are the largest suppliers and producers of cashmere, yet cashmere goats have consumed as much as up to 95% of forage across the Tibetan plateau, Mongolia and India, leaving just 5% for wild animals. As much as 70% of Mongolia’s rangelands are at risk from permanent desertification.
The knock-on effect of this desertification is infertile land, affecting the livelihoods and nomadic way of life of thousands of herder families in Mongolia.
While the work of RESP is still in its early stages, the meeting ended with concrete measures to work on traceability. Tengri was invited to participate in the international working group on wool fibres, to which we shall contribute with much energy and enthusiasm.
It’s still early days, but as more than just a fashion label, we thank you for joining our journey and helping to be an active force for change.