Studio Visit: Tengri
Last week, I was invited by Tengri's founder Nancy Johnston to visit their HQ as a part of their Studio Open Day.
I had a wonderful time learning more about the brand, as well as chatting to Nancy on a wide array of issues, particularly on sustainability in the apparel industry; all in all very insightful.
I reckon that while this conversation may not quite fit into the blog's usual focus on style and tailoring, it would certainly interest those of you who love garments that are made in an environmentally-conscious way, and Tengri surely fits into that category.
Hence, in this post, I'll be sharing with you some of the highlights of the visit. Enjoy.
First of all, for those of you who are not familiar with the brand, Tengri is one of the foremost sustainable businesses for specialized in producing yak fibers from the Mongolian Khangai mountains through a 100% transparent supply chain.
Now, I am not going into the detail of the social enterprise's background and business model here since I have already touched on that in a previous article. (Feel free to have a look at that piece before jumping back to this one.)
What I want to point out, however, is that some of my perceptions towards Tengri have changed quite radically since then; especially those concerning the pricing of its products and how the brand could contribute to addressing issues in the wider realm of sustainable fashion.
While this might be because of how I perceive sustainable fashion differently these days, it's also largely attributed to what I learned from the conversation with Nancy at the beginning of the visit ― the enormous effort that goes into the process of product development for a brand like Tengri.
Believe it or not, most garments (or cloths) that Tengri offers would usually take up to 3 years from the stage of development to their release, unlike many other brands.
This may sound shocking at first glance.
Yet, if you consider that it actually takes time to come up with a design that is truly sustainable and timeless, let alone another 18 months in order to produce enough yak fibers for production without going against the natural cycle of how these materials are made; then all of this makes perfect sense.
Perhaps some readers who have experience with bespoke (or MTM) could better relate to why this is the case, considering we are quite educated on the time and effort which craftsmen would require in order to produce a high-quality garment that is made to last.
Unfortunately, this is usually not the case for the majority of consumers in the world.
The truth is, when most people look at a garment, they tend to focus solely on the price of the piece while often neglecting its actual lifecycle value; namely the cost of the design, fabric, and most importantly the labor input during the manufacturing process.
This is not to blame anyone or to put the responsibility on any particular stakeholder. Nonetheless, it would definitely be helpful for us to acknowledge why shouldn't the price-competitive framework be applied to well-crafted garments.
Indeed, as Nancy framed it, 'people need to start seeing where clothes are actually from, just like with food and plastics.'
Elsewhere, we also touched on something more exciting and positive, particularly on the design aspect of the business.
Showcased in the studio were also three one-of-a-kind yak-hair overcoats. These are not for sale, but rather they were made by various designers as a part of the brand's yearly Tengri Innovation Award.
Although far from what would be considered as an understated classic menswear overcoat, the couture piece featured above is something that immediately caught my attention.
What you have here is a classic full-body fur coat which features an unusual twist that substitutes the fur with different patches of yak fibers ― almost like if the designer is going towards the opposite direction in the formality spectrum, especially when you consider yak hair has historically been seen as a biowaste until Tengri stepped in.
Needless to say, the end result is just as dramatic and stunning, if not more. Sadly, it's not something I would wear. But part of me wishes I was the type of person who would.
With that said, when it comes to what I truly admire Tengri as a brand, it has to be its attitude on personal style ― it suggests rather than imposes 'style' on the consumer, which is crucial for sustainability in my opinion.
'We offer our pieces through an MTO or a bespoke service, and if you prefer your own take on the cloth, you could always just purchase it directly and have it tailored,' Nancy added.
With the first batch of yak jacketing exclusive to Huntsman being highly successful, Tengri is now offering a second batch of it coming in a much denser hopsack weave and in more colorways.
On top of that, Nancy also revealed that there will be yak overcoating and camel hair jacketing cloth available for purchase in the upcoming few months, all from the Khangai Mountains where Tengri sources their fibers from.