The tagline for “06880” is “Where Westport meets the world.”
And that includes Mongolia.
Matt Scanlan is a Westport native. He left Staples after his junior year — he would have graduated in 2006 — and headed to Pomfret School.
At Dickinson College Matt met Diederik Rijsemus, a “super-resourceful Dutch guy” who traveled to Beijing to study economics. He roamed around Asia, and in Mongolia was taken in by nomadic herders. Diederik saw them live as they had for thousands of years — shearing sheep, living off meat and milk, their lives dependent on the environment and weather.
But Mongolia is changing more rapidly than any place on earth. Its average temperature has risen nearly 4 degrees in the past 60 years. Livestock are dying for a host of reasons. In a country almost entirely dependent on the cashmere industry, that’s been devastating.
Diederik enlisted Matt’s help. They created Naadam Cashmere. Named for Mongolia’s largest cultural festival, it’s a clothing company that flips the luxury fashion industry on its head.
Naadam buys raw cashmere fibers from Mongolian herders, and manufactures high-end sweaters there. Profits are invested back in the herders — in the form of livestock insurance.
Run by the World Bank, livestock insurance enables herders to be reimbursed for losses — helping them live to the next season. It costs $250 to cover one family for a year. “That’s astronomical by Mongolian standards,” Matt notes.
Their 1st year — as juniors in college — Matt and Diederik turned 100% of their profits back to the herders. That $2,000 helped 8 families.
Naadam — which branched out into cashmere hoodies, hats, scarves and socks — is now a for-profit business. They take 45% margins, to keep the price down.
They’ve also created a Kickstarter site, to help fund an e-commerce site that would drive costs even lower. In its first 3 days, it raised $17,000.
Designs — inspired by Matt and Diederik’s friends — are durable but luxuriously soft. Many are limited edition pieces.
Most manufacturers require large minimums, Matt says. But when the Mongolian partners see that Naadam is trying to protect their culture and provide for the future, they do what they can to make special orders.
It’s not easy running a US company working with Mongolian herders and manufacturers, delivering a luxury product that helps an impoverished nation.
But Naadam Cashmere is one way in which one Westporter truly meets the world.