Sunday, March 10, 2013

Coterie feature #1: Jon Hetts of Emzeg Steppe Cashmere [TMRW-Coterie2013]

The Big! Made in Mongolia by Emzeg Steppe

Although we're already in March and Spring is just a couple of weeks away, we just got dumped a fresh new pile of snow a couple of days ago (most melted away by now due to a gorgeous weekend that was had!) but it is definitely still chilly outside. When it is cold, I think of my cashmere sweaters and cardigan pieces to keep myself warm but then I also thought about this cashmere wrap from Emzeg Steppe I tried on not long ago at the Coterie international trade showThis really is the biggest, warmest cashmere scarf I have ever seen or have wrapped around myself! Although perfect for Winter, this piece is definitely something to have around Spring and Fall when you still need to stay warm. I can think of other ways to use the scarf. It could make a soft throw for the couch or help you achieve a cool celebrity-like airport style while traveling and use as a blanket to keep warm on the flight! I hate those static-inducing fleece things...

Emzeg Steppe which means 'delicate plains' in Mongolian, was recently featured at the Coterie's TMRW section which featured this generation's most progressive designers, brands and retailers from around the globe! Emzeg Steppe is definitely a stand out in bringing quality cashmere all the way from Outer Mongolia for the rest of the planet to enjoy.

Mongolian plains. Photo by Jon Hetts.

I had the opportunity to meet owner of Emzeg Steppe, Jon Hetts who answered a couple of questions I had about the brand and cashmere. I learned so much from his answers and hope you will too! I now think I know how to differentiate a good quality cashmere from a bad one and boy, I think I own a lot of low-end cashmere :)
Do you own many cashmere pieces? What are your thoughts about cashmere? 

Jon Hetts wearing The Big! -Emzeg Steppe

1. Which are your favorite pieces of all time or from your current collection?

I have just recently started my company, so this season is actually my first. That makes the question about my favorite pieces of all time easier to answer! I would have to say, though, that my favorite piece is the oversized cashmere wrap that's about 10 feet long with a inch hand quartered and attached fringe, about 2 feet wide, and THICK. It comes in at over 2lbs. 

Generally, the main ideas behind my brand are top quality cashmere pieces that are really made to last in classic styles usually not  found in cashmere. The oversized wrap is cool for me because it really forces people to make a decision about it, and takes a stand more than the other pieces. People usually either love or hate it! It's either a blanket and shouldn't be worn, or it's incredibly cool, luxurious, and beautiful. I like the idea of having a classic line with broader appeal, but also having one or two pieces a season that are different and a bit moreforward.

Though in the end, I'm just lucky to be working with cashmere. Even if people don't particularly like a style, they still love it because it's made in cashmere, and that's hard to hate.

She is decked out in Emzeg Steppe cashmere. via Emzeg Steppe

2-I see on your website there is a section with Cashmere FAQs answering top questions the public may have about your product or cashmere. What is the biggest misconception of a quality cashmere most consumers should be made aware of? My $50 Uniqlo super soft cashmere sweater says it is 100%, should I believe it?

Cashmere is a really interesting fiber and it has a lot of idiosyncrasies and misconceptions. I think if I had to pick one that's most common, it would be cashmere softness and what that means. While quality cashmere will always have a luxurious soft hand to it, softer doesn't really mean a better quality fiber, and especially not a better quality finished item. A lot of lower quality cashmere items can feel extremely soft because they are already starting to unravel and get a soft, fluffy feel to it. At first this feels great, but it also means that the piece will most likely pill quickly and also not hold its shape. Looser knits are also going to feel softer than tighter knits.

I learned a lot more about cashmere when I was living in Mongolia, and especially when I started to talk with my business partner there. At first, I wanted the finished pieces to be made as soft as possible, which is done by washing/agitating the clothes more to get the knits to open up a bit. At that time I still related the softest cashmere to highest quality cashmere. 

It was then that she not only refused to do that, but also explained that in Mongolia, people will actually not buy cashmere pieces that are extremely soft because it actually implies poor quality to them. The best cashmere is going to be soft, but tight, dense knits without fuzz. After some wearing, it will break in and only get softer over time. But in the end, if anybody wants their cashmere items to be softer, you can always lightly wash high quality items or throw them in a dryer for a bit to soften them up more. 

Without actually seeing your sweater or knowing the company and their process, I really couldn't make a judgment about its purity or quality. When I'm asked about purity, I do always tell this story:

This last season I was having a cashmere headband reproduced in Mongolian cashmere for a customer. The headband was very soft and luxurious. I was told it was purchased for 200$ retail and it was also labeled as 100% cashmere. After showing it to my business partner, I asked her about the quality of the piece, and she told me that at most it was 70-80% cashmere, with the rest being a filler.

There is currently a movement in Mongolia to limit the export or raw cashmere to China because it is common practice for companies there to mix pure cashmere, which is expensive, with cheaper synthetic fillers that are also extremely soft but low quality. Although it is illegal and deceptive, items and/or yarn are still labeled as 100% pure. It's detrimental to not only the businesses but the cashmere name as well. The only way to be sure what your getting is to work with a trusted brand and know as much about their manufacturing process as possible!


3- Your custom design section is a really unique approach to let your clients be more involved in the creative process of the garments they wear and own. I see a couple of suggestions (gloves, arm warmers and leg warmers) already, any new ideas you or your partner are churning up soon?

The custom design section is really less about me having ideas for items, but more giving designers ideas about what is capable with cashmere. Through the custom design section, I'd really like to develop relationships with designers that have some radical ideas that I could help bring to fruition on an exclusive basis. That way, I could do really forward projects but still keep a cohesive line and brand image. 

With the quality of work from my partner in Mongolia and her willingness to do custom design, I really think there is an opportunity to do some cool projects and change the face of cashmere in fashion. With my language and understanding of the culture, I think I could work to connect really interesting people and produce some truly unique, fresh, one of a kind items in cashmere. 

TMRW at Coterie 2013

Emzeg Steppe at TMRW -

Emzeg Steppe cashmere scarves

Thanks for reading!

Most photos are taken by me unless otherwise stated! Photos courtesy of Emzeg Steppe. 

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