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Inspiring Conversations with Betina Infante of Hangai Mountain Textiles

Today we’d like to introduce you to Betina Infante. 

Hi Betina, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
On a frigid January morning in 2006, we landed in the capital city of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, with our two very young children. So began our relationship with a magnificent country that reveres “Ikh Tenger” the great blue sky that meets the grasslands that cover much of the country. The grasslands, “steppe,” are peppered with livestock and dotted with gers, the felt-covered circular dwellings that millions of Mongolians call home. Herds of sheep, cashmere goats, yak, and camel graze the steppe and mountain landscape.

We arrived in Ulaanbaatar to work with the people and government of Mongolia, helping to build the country’s economic and democratic institutions, and stayed for over a decade after establishing a PR company that became the affiliate of global communications leader Ogilvy. Our experience was fascinating, and we made lasting friendships.

Our relationship with Colorado began in 2014 when we enrolled our kids at the Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale – their first experience studying and living in the United States. We fell immediately in love with the Roaring Fork Valley – the mountains, rivers, and community. About a year afterwards, we found a lovely house in Old Town Basalt, and it was on our deck, in our first summer in the valley, that the idea for a new enterprise was born.

On a cool August evening, we sat outside with friends gazing at the stars and outline of Mount Sopris. I pulled out our Mongolian blankets to keep everyone warm as the temperatures dropped. The next day the blankets became the conversation piece that inspired Bill, my husband, and I to explore what it would take to develop an international home textile brand that could showcased the best of Mongolia’s hand-combed cashmere, yak, and baby camel fiber.

After many conversations with Mongolian friends, research on fiber harvest and processing, textile design and production, and supply chain logistics, we took the leap and conceived a brand committed to distinguishing and promoting Mongolia’s herding, knitting, and weaving traditions: Hangai Mountain Textiles.

We are endlessly grateful to the entrepreneurs and clients in Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley who first partnered with us when we launched our company in 2017, giving us the hope and opportunity to bring Hangai to life.

Today, we are a growing family-owned and run business with a showroom in Basalt, Colorado, and a presence in Mongolia, where we source our fiber and produce our collections. We design blankets, throws and accessories knit and woven from hand-combed cashmere, yak down, and baby camel. All of our products are made exclusively in Mongolia, ensuring that local producers benefit most from partnering with us. We have placed our collections with prominent designers, specialty retailers, and boutique hotels and resorts across the U.S., including Blackberry Farm, Hotel Jerome, Timbers Resorts, and others, who value products that are luxurious and sustainably produced, and in the case of yak down: 100% undyed, unbleached and naturally hypoallergenic.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
A business without challenges is most likely a business without growth – Impossible!

From the beginning, we believed that quality was non-negotiable. When we first started, we spent an enormous amount of time on quality control, and we worked closely with our partners to ensure that every piece was carefully inspected. If any detail was off, the piece was sent back. Early quality assurance/quality control was time-consuming and expensive, but it paid off. Today, we move through production QA/QC much more efficiently, and in the process, we believe that we’re helping our partners “up their game.”

The U.S. market is discerning and competitive, and it’s not easy to get noticed. Getting our story out has been a challenge. We hired a PR firm and spent a lot of money, but we didn’t get the placement or notice we wanted or expected. Brand-building and disseminating our story remain challenges that we continue to work on. At the end of the day, we realize that it’s our personal story and long relationship with Mongolia that sells our collections… I suppose that it’s our telling of own story that is most compelling.

Finally, the COVID pandemic has created opportunities and some significant challenges. Over the past two years, we have been thrilled to work seamlessly with our partners in Mongolia to design and launch new collections remotely, but we have been stunned at the increased cost and complexity of shipping. In early 2019 we could ship door-to-door in about 10 days for about $10/kg. Now, it takes three weeks and costs 100% more. The impact of shipping costs and logistics has forced us to plan further out and trim margins.

We’ve been impressed with Hangai Mountain Textiles, but for folks who might not be as familiar, what can you share with them about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
When we launched Hangai, Bill and I spent a great deal of time, discussing strategy, positioning, and what we wanted Hangai – the brand – to be known for in the U.S. market.

We committed to developing a business with a purpose based on three core tenets, which guide our work:

1) All of our products are exclusively produced in Mongolia, by Mongolian-owned firms (all of which happen to be family-owned) so that our supply chain partners: herders, washers, spinners, and knitters benefit most from partnering with us as we grow together. To the best of our knowledge, we are the only internationals producing exclusively in Mongolia: from herder to your home every Hangai throw, blanket or accessory is 100% Mongolian-made.

Mongolia is the second-largest producer of cashmere in the world, but about 90% of its cashmere is exported in raw or minimally-processed form to China, Scotland, Italy, and other countries for processing, knitting, and weaving. This leaves little fiber for local manufacturers, and exports virtually all of the benefits, the value-added, to foreign countries. We are committed to producing unique collections of blankets and throws that are knit and woven from hand-combed natural fibers exclusively in Mongolia. This ensures that our production benefits the Mongolian value chain from the many herder families to the knitters and weavers with whom we partner.

2) We are making a market for rare yak down, a more sustainable fiber.

Rare Yak down is exquisitely soft, rare, unbleached, undyed, and naturally hypoallergenic, though the fiber is relatively unknown in the U.S. Yak have a special sustainability story. Yak are relatively light on the land because they graze without uprooting the native steppe grasses like other animals. The yak down used in our collections is sourced largely from the Hangai mountain range in the center of the country, which inspired our brand name.

3) We specialize in producing small volumes of high-quality, luxuriously knit blankets, throws, and home accessories.

We are not interested in mass-producing Hangai. We develop our unique collections with our partners: herder families, local associations and cooperatives, and the knitters and weavers who share our values that embrace fair trade, sustainable production, and traceability.

The bottom line is that we want to be a business with a purpose and a soul, one that upholds values, and grows together with partners who share our values. We intentionally knit and weave all of Hangai’s products in Mongolia, because we believe that this is the most sincere expression of commitment to the families that produce our collections, and to Mongolia by ensuring that our production benefits the Mongolian value chain beginning with the many herder families who hand-harvest the fiber that we source.

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
Strong partnerships and authentic collaborations are the key to success.

Our partners in Mongolia are phenomenal. They are responsive, flexible, creative, talented, and professional. We grow together.

The collaborations that we have developed with U.S. entrepreneurs are so exciting and encouraging. Most recently, we had the fortunate opportunity to develop an exclusive collection for the renowned and prestigious Blackberry Farm resort in Tennessee. We have collaborated with Jamie Tisch, a dynamo businesswoman, and Aspen Art Museum Board Member, and acclaimed interior designers, Rodman Primack, to collaboratively create an eye-catching cashmere textile collection for their Aspen Pop-Up. We have partnered with GOOP and other specialty retailers, as well as designers across the U.S. on exciting projects. Upcoming in 2022, we’re working to place classic pieces and specially-designed throws in Culver City’s “immersive space” named Atrio, a collaboration between David Fishbeins’s Runyon group and AD 100 designer, Jeremiah Brent, that will showcase a fabulous line of curated homewares from Hangai and others. These opportunities inspire us and affirm that we are on the right track.

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Image Credits:

Summers Moore

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