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The 'Yak Wool' Deception

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Yaks in Himalayan Nepal
Since Winter is almost upon us once again, I thought I would scribble down a few thoughts about fabric and fibers in the 'yak wool' trade that we have been (thrown) into for many years now. Being one of the many traders who bring these wonderful products into Australia for you all to enjoy, we are suitably qualified to offer a unique opinion that I'm sure will interest many of you.

The Yak Wool Untruth

Yaks are one of the larger members of the bovine family. They live in the high altitudes of the Himalayas, and as a result they need to keep warm. They do this by growing a fine layer of down underneath their outer 'hair' or 'wool'. The wool is coarse but very hardy, and is traditionally used to make rope, extremely warm blankets, and weave materials for nomadic tents. 

The down of the yak however is extremely fine and is comparable in micron thickness (and texture) to merino wool, angora (rabbit), and cashmere (the down of the mountain goat). This yak down (in fact, any down) is a luxury fiber, and can be hand spun into beautiful shawls and scarves. For a price quite similar to angora or cashmere. 

We see many Australian traders who advertise their AU$20 - $40 (100%) acrylic rugs as 'yak wool' or a 'yak wool blend'. This annoys us to no end for loads of reasons, the most being it is simply not true, and the seller knows it! They are lying to the customer to make a sale. They are telling you what they think you want to hear.

The rug in the picture above is pretty much nationally advertised as yak wool, when in fact there is 0% wool of any kind in it (let alone 'yak' wool!). 

It is made from 100% acrylic in small villages on the border of NW Nepal and India. Local peoples turn the plastic 'balls' of acrylic into long, stringy fibers and weave it together to create these quite lovely rugs.    

These rugs are easy to manipulate the truth about though, as they are extremely soft. This 'softness' implies however that you are buying a yak 'down' (not wool) throw/rug/scarf for between $20 - $40. If you are indeed buying yak down, you would be paying at least 10 times that price.   

These rugs look delightful though on a couch or worn as a shawl - they are soft and warm and a great price, just don't wrap yourself in them if you're ever in a fire! Despite what you were told about the fabric by the person who sold it to you.  

We sell these rugs for what they are: a $25 lovely acrylic throw rug. I have a feeling we've broken many a heart though when our customers say to us, 'I have the same rug but mine's yak wool!' Of course we tell them the truth, and we then ask them to touch an actual yak wool rug which we sell for $79 ... and then they realise! 'But it's not soft, it's itchy! I'll have to wear something under it!'

As you have to do with all wool products.

Next time you are unsure about a product you are being told is wool, ask the seller to pull off a little fluff and burn it; acrylic 'fluff' will quickly turn black and smell like rubber, while wool will slowly burn and smell like human hair burning.

And don't always believe the fabric labels on these rugs - the seller can print their own label and request they be sewn on while still in Nepal or country of origin (we have seen this done by one business.)

We know that you all want to know the truth about the products you buy. We are hoping that by exposing untruths such as this, everyone is accountable for what they sell, what they say about what they sell, and the consequences about what they say about what they sell.

There are laws about this ... for good reason.

Until next time,
Mel X

Surya Ethical Trade with Nepal


  • MAtt: December 12, 2016

    Thank you so much for the information, I’m in Thamel and almost made the mistake of buying one of the acrylic ones had I not googled first.

  • Rob: December 11, 2016

    Thanks for this article. We’ve been buying these yaks wool Tibetan shawls recently to sell on, and they are a great seller for us. We get them sourced from a north Indian trader and they come labeled as yaks wool. I never thought to question it until today when someone said “that’s not yaks wool, that’s false advertising” well I was defensive and offended… Turns out they were probably right and now I need to relabel them as just woven Tibetan shawls.

  • Catherine: November 19, 2015

    So very true – it’s a pity when customers are given wrong info and the general perception of a super fiber becomes wrong. Nice article, good to spread the word.

  • m young: June 07, 2015

    thank you for your info. i’ve seen an advertisement on e-bay for ‘soft’ yak wool blankets made in china from tibetan yaks. apart from the whole china thing, i was puzzled by the ad as i thought yaks had coarse wool. so i googled it and found your site. thanks very much for your accurate information

  • christine: March 31, 2015

    thanks for this information. I bought a yak wool shawl from a man from the Tibetan Co-operative I think it was at Namche Bazaar, it is beautiful, cost me about $18 Australian dollars and I so wish I got more.

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