How can we change the world?

Meet design and lifestyle pioneer, Marc Péridis,  founder and creative director of 19 greek street. Marc joined the Tengri team in Mongolia’s Khangai Mountains, living with nomadic yak herder families in a bid to better understand how Tengri noble yarns support the country’s land, animals and communities.

Marc is no stranger to travelling to far-flung places. Originally from Canada, and currently dividing his time between Barcelona and London, he lives a jet-setting life for work and pleasure. But even for an experienced globetrotter, Mongolia can be a challenging destination, especially when experiencing first-hand the daily life of nomadic yak herder families in the very remote Khangai Mountains. Up for the challenge, Marc endured long journeys over rough terrain and apparently endless roads, with no running water, and this open-minded vegetarian gracefully lived off the limited daily meal options of meat and dairy, embracing a nomadic and sustainable way of living.

Marc Péridis with Nancy Johnston (Tengri CEO & Founder) wearing    Gaiscíoch Scarf    and standing among a herd of yaks in the Khangai Mountains, western Mongolia.

Marc Péridis with Nancy Johnston (Tengri CEO & Founder) wearing Gaiscíoch Scarf and standing among a herd of yaks in the Khangai Mountains, western Mongolia.

Marc travelled with Nancy and photographer and film editor duo, Josh and Luke Exell, to participate in the Mongolian Yak Festival, a celebration of community collaboration. This was an opportunity not to be missed and Marc, being passionate about sustainability, could witness first-hand the trust and partnership that Tengri has very quickly established for the supply of its Mongolian Khangai noble yarns.

The production of these yarns, from yak fibre, offers nomadic herders a sustainable way to preserve their traditional way of life. Yak fibre is an environmentally friendly alternative to cashmere – which is often produced by over-intensive grazing that damages the land – and so the humble yak plays an essential role in protecting Mongolia’s rangelands.

The harsh conditions were soon forgotten amid the beauty of the landscape, the generosity of the people and the amazing celebrations of the world-famous Nadaam festivals.
 

Yaks are an indigenous wild species in Mongolia. They play an important role in protecting the rangelands in Mongolia, allowing biodiversity and other wild animals to thrive.

Yaks are an indigenous wild species in Mongolia. They play an important role in protecting the rangelands in Mongolia, allowing biodiversity and other wild animals to thrive.

Herders milk their animals twice a day in the morning and at dusk. Yak fibres are only available once a year by hand-combing when the animals shed their winter coats in the spring.

Nomadic herder families are stewards of the land and go to great lengths for the care of their animals. Their livelihoods and traditional way of life are dependent on the delicate relationship with the land and their animals.

Among Marc’s many memorable experiences, taking part in the Tengri fashion show, which was organised as part of the celebrations, as well as presenting Tengri’s capsule collection, was certainly a surprise. Marc happily joined the cast of models scouted from the local herder community in the steppes and fellow travellers, including American cyclist, Aaron Glick (pictured far right).

Marc Péridis backstage, preparing with Nancy for the Tengri fashion runway in Mongolia

Marc Péridis backstage, preparing with Nancy for the Tengri fashion runway in Mongolia

 Marc’s passion is exuded through 19 greek street, aimed at showcasing beautiful and unique design, working collaboratively with creative people, and offering people a way to feel and do good through better-informed consumer choices. This approach matches Tengri’s philosophy.

19 greek street has been a hub of creativity and exchange since its inception. A new exhibition, The Art of Progress, coincided with the 2015 London Design Festival, enabling people to share, talk, question and experience the space, objects and creative process. “This exhibition is about showing people different ways they can feel better, live better, and leave a better imprint on the world,” says Marc.

When Nancy and Marc started talking about collaborating for the London Design Festival, it was clear that both founders had a similar ethos in their design approach: a respect for people, craftsmanship, beautifully designed pieces made without harming people, animals or the environment. A decision was quickly reached.

Presented by 19 greek street, Tengri was one of the proud partners associated with Art of Progress, joining forces to form a wider collective movement that kicked off during London Design Festival in September 2015.

Art of Progress installation during London Design Festival, featuring Tengri ‘Rider’ sweater and throw.

Art of Progress installation during London Design Festival, featuring Tengri ‘Rider’ sweater and throw.

Photography by Josh Exell and 19 Greek St. © Tengri Ltd.

Tengri at this year’s Mongolia Yak Festival

Knowing our founder’s enthusiasm for anything that involves climbing a mountain, or riding a bike – in the urban jungle or off the beaten track in Scotland – it’s no surprise that Tengri fashion shows don’t usually involve comfy seats, a glass of champagne and air conditioning.

That’s why the new capsule collection of knitwear, created with 100% Mongolian Khangai noble yarns, was unveiled in Mongolia during the Yak Festival, to coincide with the world-famous Nadaam festivals held every July.

We are honoured that Tengri was invited to be part of the Mongolia Yak Festival, a celebration of community collaboration. This event was organised by the Arkhangai local government and Arkhangai Federation of Pasture User Groups, with the support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Jambaldorj Sorsor, Director of Arkhangai Federation of Pasture User Groups, commented: “The Yak Festival honours a creature integral to our livelihoods and this year we celebrate the growth and support of herder families involved in our co-operatives, enabled by an international partnership established with Tengri.”

This new collection, following the ‘Warrior’ Collection of 2014, highlights the profound importance of the relationships between nomadic herders, animals and the land in Mongolia.

Joining an international cast of riders from Britain and America, the catwalk show featured Mongolian models scouted from local herder families in the run-up to the festival. Challenging weather conditions did not stop anyone from putting on a fantastic show and the local community enjoying it.

Tengri models pose for a picture backstage with Nancy, Tengri founder (3rd from left) before the show.

Tengri models pose for a picture backstage with Nancy, Tengri founder (3rd from left) before the show.

The show previewed pieces from Tengri’s new Autumn/Winter ‘Rider’ Collection, which will launch later this year. The capsule collection demonstrates simple classic cuts, which are utilitarian in style, unisex and easy to wear.

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Inspired by the spirit of the ‘Rider’ – evoking a sense of adventure and journeys to distant and unfamiliar terrain – it’s no surprise an expedition of fellow riders from Tumbleweedbikes rolled up on fatbikes and converged at this remote spot. American riders, Daniel, Jay and Aaron, were joined by British rider, Cass Gilbert, an avid cyclist, adventure-travel journalist and regular contributor to SidetrackedCrankedMountain Flyer and Boneshaker magazines. Like us, these guys love the idea of an adventurous trek, new destinations, freedom of movement and the challenges offered by the trail. We even persuaded Aaron to model our collection.

American cyclist, Aaron Glick, models items from Tengri everyday essentials.

American cyclist, Aaron Glick, models items from Tengri everyday essentials.

Designed by Nancy Johnston, Tengri’s founder, together with in-house designer Carlo Volpi, as well as textile and fashion students from Heriot-Watt university, the garments will be made in Scotland and London, where quality craftsmanship and technological innovation add new value to Mongolian Khangai noble yarns.

Meet Tengri at the London Design Festival this Summer

If you would like to discover more about Tengri yak fibre and textiles, come and meet us during the London Design Festival from 19 to 27 September. We will be showcasing the works of designers and artisanal makers who work with yak fibre, in collaboration with 19 Greek Street.

Is Fairtrade really fair?

The clothes I wear, the coffee I drink, the food I eat – even that little bit of cheeky chocolate – are all labelled 'fairtrade'. When I buy fairtrade, I walk away feeling good that I just did my bit for the world. But what am I really buying? It seems as though fairtrade has become a commodity – just a way to increase the price and sell to the growing eco-friendly market.

I can't help but ask the question: is fairtrade really good enough?

When I decided to create a socially minded business I took a long, hard look at the fairtrade industry. I saw images of smiling, clean people happily working away in factories – all possible because of the nice man or woman who made it a point to pay them just that little bit more than their competitor.

But how do we define fair? Here we are sitting in our comfy homes, living our comfy lives and that person, half a world away, is working and living in conditions that no one in the developed world could stomach, for a wage that a penniless student wouldn't even get out of bed for. The conditions in marketing material tell me that things are probably better than other local factories in the same industry, but the situation isn't even close to fair.
Shouldn't the factory workers be given the same opportunities and salaries as I am? Shouldn't they have the right to travel, start a business, live in a city, or to earn a wage that can afford the kind of home, consumer electronics, or education that I can? 

We know that the world is not fair, but can fairness really exist in a first-world business that employs a third-world workforce? For some businesses, it might be enough to pay their international suppliers a slightly more competitive wage than the status quo. Consumers may also be content to pay just that little bit more for a slice of humanity. For me, as the founder and CEO of Tengri, it wasn't good enough. During my visits to factories in Mongolia, I was flabbergasted by the fact that much of the animal fibre industry (cashmere, camel, sheep and yak wool) is fairtrade and is in fact sold to high-end designer labels. Much of it is shipped to European countries and America, where it is processed and sold in the luxury goods market. If these labels claim to be fairtrade, then why is the whole of Mongolia's animal fibre industry still reliant on government handouts to subsist in the face of a thriving export industry? Why are NGOs still needed? I began to wonder if this is true of many developing countries and the whole of the textile market and fashion industry. Did I uncover a dirty hidden truth? 

While in Mongolia, I had a chance to hear from the herders. They said that they never really had a chance to see what the fruits of their labour were. The very people who were supplying the raw materials never saw the end goods, nor would they ever be able to afford any of the products in their lifetime – or several lifetimes. 

A woman herder told me "In the countryside, you don't need money to live... you just need the land and animals". The irony was, that she was working for money to save for their young daughter's future education. I had a pit in my stomach when she told me this, because I know what I paid for my education in the west. I had a deep sinking feeling that what she saved would never be enough to buy a decent education, nor would she be offered the same opportunities, just because she was born in Mongolia. 

Nancy and the little Mongolian girl. www.tengri.co.uk

To me, this was the nail in the coffin for fairtrade. Yes, it's a start, but the fact of the matter is, this situation is not 'fair'.

I asked myself: How can I make things fair? How can I be fairtrade and be equitable in business? These questions plagued me and with that came another set of questions: Is it not fair to share the business profits equally, irrespective of currencies or country? Is being fair sharing my skills and knowledge rather than using them for commercial gain? life can't just be about give and take, sometimes it is about creating and giving back--so that is what I set out to do.

Tengri was created to go further than fairtrade, eco-friendly fashion. We won't just donate a percentage of our profits to help Mongolia. We won't just pay our suppliers a little bit more or organise humanitarian aid. We won't set up factories in Mongolia to make our clothes. Instead, we will partner with existing small and medium enterprises to help shape the market and grow. We will design our collection, based on all things Mongolian, inspired by the spirit of Mongolia and its people. We will work with them to help create and export the best of what Mongolia has to offer. We will share our profits, fairly and squarely with the cooperatives, herder families and manufacturing companies in Mongolia. We will allow them to use their profits as they see fit. We are not here to tell Mongolia what to do or treat our partners like a charity case. We are here to work as a collective partnership in the spirit of fairshare and show a little slice of Mongolia to the world.

Tengri is a culmination of my lifetime's passion and commitment to make a better world. I believe there is a place where design, fashion, business, individual consumers and collective action can truly make a difference to the environment, the animals and the livelihoods of nomadic people who live in it.