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An Interview with Mandkahi Jargalsaikhan of Mandkhai

Born and raised in her parents’ cashmere factory in Mongolia, Mandkhai Jargalsaikhan knows everything there is to know about Cashmere. Today, Her self-named brand, MANDKHAI, is changing perceptions about cashmere — and showing the industry there is a way to produce this highly sought-after fabric  profitably and sustainably. 
Not only does Mandkhai offer some truly innovative cashmere pieces, including coats and dresses, her supply chain is unbelievably transparent and also has a minimal carbon footprint. Mongolian Cashmere does not harm any animals in its production, as the cashmere is simply combed off the free-roaming goats in the springtime. Everything is sourced and produced in her native Mongolia, minimising her productions’s carbon emissions.
Today, the sustainable fashion revolution is forcing brands to look at the consequences of their supply chain and weigh profitability with sustainability; but Mandkhai is living proof that you can do both. When asked about what the fashion industry’s role is on protecting our planet’s future, Mandkhai says that, “Any positive change will have a great impact”  and we believe that business models like Mandkhai is a great place to start. 

Tell us about yourself and your background, what made you fall in love with fashion?
My name is Mandkhai Jargalsaikhan and I am the founder of MANDKHAI; a cashmere knitwear brand that challenges the current perception of cashmere. I was born to entrepreneurial parents,  who were the very first to set up a business in post socialist Mongolia - a cashmere factory. I grew up going to work with my parents, and the factory was my playground. I would spend my days watching and finishing little tasks given to me by the craftswomen. 
Because of my background, I was already involved in the clothing business. However, I would say that it was my mother and my moving to London made me fall in love with fashion. My mother has impeccable style and she was always ahead of her time in the way she dressed. Studying fashion in London was incredible for me, as the city is full of creative individuals who don’t shy away from expressing themselves through fashion. I love the sense of freedom that Londoners seem to have.
Why have you decided to focus on cashmere? In what ways is Mandkhai challenging traditional conceptions about cashmere? 
Mongolian Cashmere is what I grew up with. I find it fascinating that nature makes the goats produce this amazing fibre, which humans make into garments to wear and enjoy! It gets to - 50  degrees in the winter in Mongolia; and goats produce cashmere that helps Mongolians survive the winter months. I truly believe Mongolian cashmere is a gift; and I wanted to share this and my heritage with the world.
At MANDKHAI we aim to create well designed pieces that are both contemporary and exciting. It doesn’t have to be all about classic turtlenecks. I believe you can do so much more with this material; and therefore we make a variety of different types of clothing such as suits, coats, dresses , etc.
Tell us about the inspiration behind your latest collection? 
My collections are an ever evolving story about combining my heritage and my knowledge of Mongolian cashmere,  with the needs of the modern world. 
For autumn-winter 18/19, the collection focuses on refining fit and shape, exploring further core pieces like our knitted suit design, by adding hand embroidery to elevate it. The collection also incorporates and explores new natural fibres for MANDKHAI introducing yak wool in its natural colour.
How important is sustainability and supply chain transparency to the ethos of Mandkhai? 
We want people to know that when you buy MANDKHAI cashmere, it comes directly from the source. We also want people to know where the cashmere comes from, why it is sustainable,  and how it is made. I think it is becoming increasingly important to consumers to make conscious choices; and we want to help them make that choice by being transparent.
Because we control our entire supply chain we can tell you exactly where we got the material from and who made it.  So yes — sustainability and transparency is very important to us as it is the foundation of our brand ethos.

In what ways does Mandkhai promote sustainability throughout its supply chain? 
The production of cashmere in itself is sustainable as no animals are harmed. We get the fine fibre by simply combing out the goat when spring arrives. Moreover, Mongolian goats are free roaming animals and they live in their natural habitat with temperatures reaching up to-50 in the winter.  Therefore the quality of Mongolian cashmere is better than the ones from farmed goats.
We only use Mongolian cashmere; and all of the processing and production is done in our factory in Mongolia. This means that we spin our own yarns, dye our own colours and then finally make fully finished cashmere garments. So everything is done at the source, which means we minimise our carbon footprint. Also, working with natural fibres means that there is almost no waste in our factory.
Today, sustainability is more important than ever, with brands becoming more and more concerned about their carbon footprint. What role does the fashion industry play in the effort to minimise our environmental impact as a species?
I think the fashion industry plays a massive role. To start with, it is one of the biggest polluting forces in the environment; and I think that any positive change within the industry will have a great impact towards a healthier environment.
I think the goal of new businesses should be to turn profit, whilst also being sustainable and environmentally friendly. I believe it is possible to do both. In return, the industry should support more brands that are sustainable and are striving to make a change.
As consumers, how can we make a difference in protecting the future of our planet?
I would say buy less, but buy smarter. Quality over Quantity. Be aware of the origin of the product and how it was made. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, be aware of the materials used, and try and reduce or eliminate the usage of synthetic materials.

Interview by Hannah Tan-Gillies

Portraits by Chris Baker