Have you ever owned a cashmere sweater? Before you say, ‘cashmere is for country club bozos and grand dads’, that probably means you have never put one on. A cashmere sweater is the most comfortable item of clothing you may ever own. You won’t ever want to take it off (at least during the cold months). And thanks to Naadam, the concept of a cashmere sweater is getting redefined.
About three years ago two friends, Matthew Scanlan and Diederik Rijsemus, were not actually looking to start a clothing line. As Matthew told us, “we wanted to develop something philanthropic. I have a background in venture capital and my business partner works in Econometrics (or the currency exchange rate forecasting).”
He continues, “I was interested in how financing built businesses and Diederik understands how finance works on a global level. We were looking at the influence of micro economic development and stumbled onto Mongolia since he had visited there while in school in Hong Kong.
The nomadic lifestyle they were studying in Mongolia doesn’t really exist in many other places in the world. The locals depend on livestock and the boys thought it would be the perfect place to work with, so they basically began paying insurance premiums for the herders to protect their goats from say a blizzard that could kill the herd.
The boys then headed to Mongolia; the trip consisted of a 15 hour flight and a 20 hour drive into the middle of nowhere. They started talking to the herders and realized their goats were cashmere goats (eureka moment). These specific goats have a very unique fiber in their coat; the fiber is very long, soft and doesn’t pill when made into clothing. The boys had it tested in Italy and the factories’ reply was, ‘Where on Earth did this come from? We have never seen anything like it.” Bingo.
That was a year and a half ago and that is when they decided to start making sweaters and hired a designer. The results of their hard work are simple yet luxurious hoodies, sweaters, cardigans and hats that are high end, but won’t break the bank. Naadam (named for a festival in Mongolia that celebrates nomadic heritage) launched online and began selling in 48 stores across the US. Their story was one that buyers and retailers ate up.
As Matthew proudly tells us, “We realized we were creating a real cyclical business plan. This is how all clothing companies should grow in our eyes – by focusing on the people who create your textiles.” We couldn’t agree more.
Next up they are partnering with a non-profit called Nest, which helps artisans find global partners. For instance, Naadam is working on a full collection and, through Nest, has sourced cotton from Kenya for their denim. They are also working on selling their yarns to top factories (think Gucci and others) to bring more attention to their Mongolian herders.
Not ones to sit on their laurels, the boys have continued to build big programs in Mongolia and recently vaccinated almost 200,000 animals, which supports 500 herding families in a region the size of Rhode Island.
Today Naadam is sold around the country and online and they have collaborated with the likes of Birchbox and Kaufmann Mercantile (two of our favorite shopping destinations). In February they will be launching the first full menswear collection during Fashion Week as well as a women’s capsule collection in the next couple of weeks so stay tuned.
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