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SoGoodToWear: Reviving the cashmere industry in Nepal

By Vivian Hendriksz


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Amsterdam - SoGoodToWear is not your average fashion brand. The Dutch, fair trade fashion brand offers the perfect, luxury cashmere basics. But simply making the best possible garments in the best possible way is not enough for founders Fons and Jacqui Burger. In order to help kick start real change within the fashion industry, the duo decided to launch a new initiative which focuses on sustainable manufacturing. They launched a crowdfunding campaign in the hopes of raising enough money to revive a forgotten industry in Nepal. Now through the SoGoodToWear cooperative, a new social enterprise set up by the Burger’s, the brand aims to bring back the local cashmere industry and establish their supply-chain to Nepal. FashionUnited spoke to Jacqui Burger to learn more about this initiative.

“A long, long time ago they used to have cashmere goats in Nepal, but the industry in the area has slowly faded away. So we began researching the possibility of reintroducing cashmere goats in Nepal, as we found out that the knitting of cashmere is very sophisticated, yet outdated craft in the country,” explained Jacqui Burger to FashionUnited UK. The idea for the initiative stems back to 2015 when Jacqui and Fons visited Nepal. After travelling to the far west, they came face to face with the harsh reality thousands of locals in Gorkha were faced with after being struck by an earthquake. Many of them were struggling to rebuild their homes and livelihoods, after losing everything during the natural disaster. The Burgers sought a way to provide structural employment in the remote areas of Nepal for the years to come, rather than just emergency aid. “We were thinking how great it could be if we could offer them jobs, income and economic perspectives for the future without harming the beautiful nature there. So we thought maybe we could do something with goats.”

SoGoodToWear to revive the cashmere industry in Nepal via 'Goats for Gorkha'

The two began researching the possibilities of reintroducing cashmere goat herding to the region after discovering the country’s rich history working with cashmere. “They use wonderful techniques, but there is hardly any innovation,” said Burger. “At the moment the resource itself, the cashmere wool , has to be imported from China, and import taxes are sky high, which makes Nepal not very competitive for the market. So we thought it would be great if we could combine the two things - innovate the local knitting industry of cashmere and reintroduce the whole supply chain from the goat onwards.” In order to fund the initiative, the Burgers decided to launch an international cooperative under SoGoodToWear, and raise money via crowdfunding. This way everyone who invests in the cooperative will also own a share of the business . “We wanted to create a social enterprise, not a private company, which is as much ours, as it is the goat herders in Nepal. We also want to control our entire cashmere supply chain in terms of fair trade and animal welfare issues.”

In order to join ​ ​ the SoGoodToWear cooperative, investors ​ ​ must buy a cashmere goat for 100 euros. ​ ​ Up to five people can pool their resources to buy a goat together. Afterwards, they will ​ ​ be able to see exactly where the money goes and be kept up to date with the initiative. In addition, ​ ​ t hey also receive 20 percent discount on SoGoodToWear garments , which will eventually be made from the local cashmere . After successfully raising 50,000 euros, the cooperation is ​ currently in the process of linking farmers with small herds of 10 t o 20 cashmere goats. ​ ​ Because there has not been a purebred type of pashmina goat, the Nepalese word for cashmere, in the country for a long time, SoGoodToWear aims to cross breed local goats from the region with imported male cashmere goats from Italy from its partner Nora Kravis . “This cross breeding will have two advantages as the cashmere goats from Europe are used to producing thicker coats at a lower altitude and they are genetically adapted to thrive in lower heights,” added Burger. “Plus, they are gorgeous.”

SoGoodToWear to bring back the whole cashmere supply-chain to Nepal

There are two reasons why SoGoodToWear is linking families with smaller herds. One is because they want to help as many families in as many villages as possible. But they also aim to protect and preserve the natural habitats in the region. “If you have big herds then they can be very destructive, as they eat everything in sight. So we have smaller herders and are training the goat herders what type of areas they should bring their herds to, to avoid areas with new trees and bushes and creating specific routes to do the least possible harm to nature.” In addition, the project will also positively impact the communities of the farmers involved, as SoGoodToWear also supplies them with solar energy, clean water and workshops. “So the entire community benefits from that.”

SoGoodToWear is set to build community spaces in the villages of Gunchock and Deurali, where the Nepalese cooperative members will be offered training on how to manage the central herds. Spinning wheels will also be present in the community room. “Cashmere is so valuable. When we take the raw wool of the goat and do the combing and dehairing, we will do it by hand. In China, this process is done by the machines, which leads to half of the hairs being lost," she explained. "But when it is done by hand, it is a simple job, hardly any is lost. Plus it is a job that nearly anyone can do, even those with a physical disability." SoGoodToWear also aims to teach the locals in Nepal how to spin the cashmere wool and naturally dye it. In this way, they aim to create new jobs and take control of their own cashmere supply chain, from the goat to the finished product.

SoGoodToWear: Making fashion the way it should be made

SoGoodToWear expects to have produced the first batch of its own cashmere in a year from now. From there on, they will start to make new collections, with the aim ensuring that 100 percent of their cashmere is own sourced within 4 to 6 years. “At the moment we purchase certified cashmere wool to use in our collections. But this is still not ideal, as when we want to travel to places where this cashmere wool is gathered, we can’t. It makes it hard. Taking control of our own supply chain by working with the social enterprise to produce our own cashmere, makes things a lot easier for us. Of course, it’s not just about having a good supply chain, we also work hard to ensure that our products are designed well and are appealing to customers, so it's not just a charity project. We are just making fashion the way it should be made.”

At the moment SoGoodToWear is still rolling out its ambitious initiative, but Burger is positive about the future. “We face new challenges every day, but we have a super great team in the Netherlands and in Nepal,” said Burger. “They are so skilled and determined to make it work. They don’t see problems, they only see solutions and ways to make it work.”

Photos: SoGoodToWear LookBook AW 17/18 by photographer Barrie Hullegie