Photo by Anna Dianich of Tolt Yarn & Wool
This year has been one full of highs and lows, victories and disappointments, but above all, reflection. It has caused us to look deeply at the whys of our business, the reasons why we exist at all. But by asking the hard questions – and making the hard decisions that accompany them – we feel like our ultimate vision is starting to come into focus.
Two years ago, I left my babies behind and traveled halfway around the world to Nepal. It was a magical place for me, a trip that pushed me to my limits, a series of decisions that gave my fledgling dreams a chance to fly. I took a month, alone in this strange but wonderful place, to make as many connections as I could – meeting suppliers, touring as many fair trade workshops as possible, training our amazing makers. I was so fortunate to meet as many as I did, and those that couldn't help me with the specific needs I had, were key in guiding me to others that might. Truth be told, I feel that I was led by God to many of the people that we work with now. There is no other explanation.
The main difficulty was finding yarn. Nepal is a country well known for its rug weaving, and there is plenty of yarn to be found, but it is mostly carpet grade and not the soft Merino wool I was searching for. Everyone told me that the type of spun yarn I was searching for simply was not possible to make in Nepal, as there are no spinning mills in the country and Merino wool is not in high demand there. But I'm a stubborn soul, and kept asking until I found someone who was willing to try.
I finally found a workshop that had an idea to try hand spinning many plys of yarn together to create the thickness I was after. So exciting! After seeing the finished product, I was so impressed and pleased with what we had been able to come up with. It dyed wonderfully, knit up beautifully and was as soft as could be. Success.
This past year it was time to place another order, but much larger. However, when we finally got our yarn and began the dyeing process, my manager discovered that it was not behaving as our previous yarn. I took time to gather as many facts as I could as to why this might be, having her meet with our supplier to show the difference, having her send samples to me for testing and inspection. Ultimately we concluded that no, this was not the same yarn that we had expected. In the end, our supplier admitted that this was stock he already had and was trying to dispose of. Obviously he had hoped we wouldn't notice the difference and had tried to create a yarn that was close to what we had been using.
It was tempting to want to just keep the yarn and put out our collection as planned, I must admit. But I knew that by doing so we would be putting something into the world that I wasn't 100% proud of and that did not sit well with us. We didn't start this business to put out collection after collection just for the sake of producing, and making something that didn't fit all of our criteria just for the sake of consistent output. And so, with a heavy heart, we did what we felt was right and decided to return the product and begin a new search for what we needed.
It's still too early to say if we have found the ideal solution, but our hope is to turn this challenge into an opportunity to create something with a beautiful story from start to finish. It has always been a concern for us that we did not have direct traceability to the source of wool that we were using, so with this change of plans, we venture out to find ethical wool. We want to know the farm it comes from, with certification that their sheep – these humble, incredible creatures who give us so much – are treated in the most humane ways and that the farm's land stewardship meets the highest standards. We are hopeful that such places exist and look forward to finding just the right source for our special products.
We share this all with you because we know you care. Those that follow our journey believe in so many of our same values of slow fashion. And sometimes, slow fashion is extremely hard. Which is why fast fashion has become so widespread - it's the easy way! But to do things right, to do things with a conscience, it takes time, commitment and sometimes sacrifice. We hope you will continue to follow this story with us as it unfolds and that when you are finally able to buy that special sweater or bonnet for your child, you will know that it was worth the wait.