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Fiber Company with Columbus Roots Works for Sustainability in Kyrgyzstan

Randi Walle Randi Walle Fiber Company with Columbus Roots Works for Sustainability in KyrgyzstanPhotos via June Cashmere.
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June Cashmere has been selling ethical cashmere all over the world since 2016. Owner Sy Belohlavek moved from Columbus to Kyrgyzstan with his wife and children in 2010 to begin researching and planning a cashmere business.  Today, more than 100 vendors offer June Cashmere yarn, including local Dublin shop Knitting Temptations.

Prior to 2010, Belohlavek had spent time working in Kyrgyzstan. With a background in business administration and an interest in development and social enterprises, he knew that starting a cashmere business would have a huge impact on the industry. Belohlavek utilized his knowledge of the country and the connections he had made there to begin work on an ethical, sustainable business that he hoped would help the local economy and offer a quality product to the public.

Belohlavek has worked with local goat farmers to collect hair from the animals. Cashmere is made from the undercoat of the goats, so it needs to be separated from the outer coat. Belohlavek created a combing tool, similar to what farmers used generations ago, that will comb the undercoat out while leaving most of the top coat. This method has several benefits. First, it simplifies the dehairing process needed to create the cashmere. Second, the goats naturally molt their undercoat in the spring, so the combing method does not harm the goats as it leaves the goats with their outer layer of hair that will protect them from the elements. Third, it does not damage or cut the already short hair, which means the hair has a higher value. Lastly, the farmers receive better payment because the product they are delivering is all cashmere and the weight they will be compensated is for solely cashmere instead of a mixture of outer and under hair.

Once the hair has been removed from the animal, the goat farmers sell it to the June Cashmere staff. From there, the hair takes a journey around the world before reaching its final destination as cashmere. Its first stop is in Belgium, where it is scoured and sanitized. From there, it travels to the last commercial dehairer left in Europe, where the fibers are separated. From there, it travels to another company in England to be spun at a family mill. It is then sent to Maine, where it is dyed with sustainable, organic dyes. It then reaches its final place, Columbus, where it is distributed throughout North America, Europe, Eastern Asia, and Australia.

The final product, cashmere yarn, is available in two weights and a variety of colors. The June Cashmere yarn has been minimally processed so it will last for generations. Most cashmere yarn on the shelves has been washed until it is soft and pilling. June Cashmere yarn has been minimally washed so that it will naturally bloom and soften as it is woven and washed. Although the yarn is the bulk of what June Cashmere offers, their website also carries a few patterns and some ready-to-wear cashmere scarves.

Currently, Belohlavek is working toward building a dehairing facility in Kyrgyzstan. The current dehairing company that June Cashmere works with is selling their equipment to Belohlavek and will be training and educating the Kyrgyz workers on how to operate it. Having this facility in Kyrgyzstan will create more jobs for local Kyrgyz, as well as cut down in production time of the cashmere yarn. The company is in the fundraising part of this endeavor, and the profit from some of the hand-woven scarves on their website will go toward purchasing the dehairing equipment and setting up the facility.

Belohlavek and his team continue to work with local goat farmers in Kyrgyzstan to create quality cashmere. The yarn produced by June Cashmere creates jobs, boosts the Kyrgyzstan economy, and raises the bar for quality cashmere yarn globally. They hope their ethical and sustainable methods will spur other cashmere businesses onto emulating their methods, creating an overall better cashmere economy.

For more information about June Cashmere and to purchase their yarn, visit their website, junecashmere.com.

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