Himalana – fairly traded wool from the roof of the world

It took two years until a wild idea became reality: 6,000 sheep that spend their summers on the high meadows of the Himalayan mountains not far from the Tibetan border are now certified organic. Himalana is the wool that comes from these sheep. The first certified organic and Fairly traded wool from 'roof of the world'.

The Himalana wool project combines in one outstanding product organic certification and Fair Trade, environmental protection and the sound economics of a traditional life. The Himalana sheep are a breed that supplies different types of wool of an excellent quality. Himalana wool is extremely versatile and can be used for a wide range of products from clothing to carpets.

What started as a pilot project in the Indian Sangla Valley has now been extended to the neighbouring Rohru valley: another 24,000 sheep are now certified organic and their proud owners and herders can market the Himalana wool under Fair Trade conditions.

Project Himalana

Who comes up with the idea to set up a Fair Trade scheme and get thousands of sheep in a remote valley in the Indian Himalayas certified organic?

Two Swabians and an Indian: Norbert Baldauf, Martin Kunz and Sushanto Mittra.

On the following pages we'll tell you how the project works and who benefits. Among the latter are Indian weavers who are already producing beautiful carpets out of Himalana wool – under Fair Trade conditions, naturally.

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The Sangla Valley - where Himalana sheep graze

The Sangla Valley is the first region in India with herds of certified organic sheep. The remote mountain valley is situated in the Indian Himalayas close to the Tibetan border. It took two years of hard work at altitudes of up to 5000 m to complete the certification process. Today sheep owners and herders are proud to be the first in India to produce pure new certified organic sheep's wool.

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Of herders and their sheep

There is the odd black sheep amongst the Himalana flock, as are brown, grey and mottled ones, but the majority is white. All have large, expressive eyes, ears that prick up as soon as you come near them or hang floppily when there is nothing to focus on but grazing. The sheep are crossbreds and show characteristics of two breeds: for one the dense, long and soft coat which is typical for Rambouillet Merinos. This breed originally came from Spain, in the 18th century it was bread at the royal farm at Rambouillet near Paris and later exported the world over. But their sturdiness, robust health, strength and energy the Himalana sheep owe to their maternal line, a local breed called Rampur Bushair. It's down to each sheep's ancestry whether it's wool will be wonderfully soft and perfect to be woven into a fabric perfect for a tailored suit or whether the wool has lots of crimp and is ideal for making carpets. The secret is in the sorting when sheering.

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The pains and joys of outdoor mountain life – meet the herders

It's late morning, Danraj Pistan squats in front of a small wood fire and makes tea with fresh goat's milk and salt - for anyone not from the region the taste may take some getting used to. A blue tarpaulin draped over a washing line and anchored with some stones offers protection from the wind.

Six herder sleep in this makeshift tent at night, plus half a dozen kit goats which regularly manage to find a cosy spot to rest in. 'It's nice to have one or two in the tent' says Danraj and smiles 'they keep you really warm'. There are 1.500 animals in the herd (toli) he manages together with the other herders, 900 sheep, the rest are goats.

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Himalana and Fair Trade

The Himalana project for certified organic pure new sheep's wool in the high mountain valleys of the Indian Himalayas is unique and the first of its kind. From the start one of the goals was to put in place a Fair Trade arrangement that would help improve the living and working conditions of sheep owners, herders and their families.

Producers of Himalana wool get a consistently better price for their wool. And it is up to them to decide what project should be funded through that extra income.

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Dimple Negi – Himalana sheep start a trend for organic

The room on the first floor of the spacious wooden house is painted in pink and light blue and furnished to accommodate a large number of guests. Dimple sits in one of the many armchairs and smiles. Her father in law of course knows much more about sheep and how to organise a joint herd (or toli), she says, but yes, it is true, for the last three years she's been in charge of doing this job in her village.

The family owns 600 sheep and goats, but the herd Dimple has to manage consists of 1,800 animals owned by 16 families. Some own just a few sheep, others several hundred.

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Jawaharlal Thakur – of life in thin air and through long winter months

Chitkul is situated at an altitude of 3,450 m at the top end of the Sangla Valley, beyond Chitkul there is only a narrow dirt road that leads through rugged terrain towards the snow capped mountain ranges and the border with China. Steep paths and steps connect the old, often beautifully adorned wooden houses, several temples and numerous small elevated storage facilities. Now, in autumn, they are filled to the brim with hay and fodder to get the animals through the winter.

Jawaharlal Thakur's house, too, is built in the traditional style: via stairs on the side of the house one enters a long, wide corridor on the first floor with two rooms and the kitchen going off to one side. Through the windows on the other side one has a magnificent view towards the end of the valley and the snow covered mountains.

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Baldev Singh – our livelihood depends on sheep

Baldev Singh wears the traditional grey woollen felt cap with a green velvet border which is typical for the Sangla Valley, his trousers and jacket too are made from wool. His wife has spun the yarn, a weaver in his village has woven the cloths and naturally the wool comes from his own sheep.

The family needs 50 kg of wool per year, it's the wool of about 30 sheep. From the yarn clothes are made for Baldev Singh, his wife and the four children, and they need shawls and blankets. Mr Singh owns 500 sheep which are sheered in the first week of September.

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Discover himalana products

Himalana – Fairly Traded wool from the roof of the world ...
... and what you can do with it.

Even at an altitude of 5,000 m, in summer it can get hot on the mountain pastures of the Himalayas, at least during the day. At night temperatures can drop dramatically. Sheep are ideally suited to deal with such temperature changes. Sheep's wool has a structure that allows the fibres to absorb a third of their weight in moisture and to quickly release it to the surrounding air – the woollen coat has temperature regulating properties which prevent the sheep from getting too hot. The crimp of the wool gives the sheep's coat the properties of an air buffer, providing insulation against the cold when temperatures drop. Pure new sheep's wool retains these properties which is why it is such a wonderful and versatile material for clothes – from suits to pullovers, from scarves to socks, and its also an excellent filling material for duvets and pillows, it can be used to insulate wall cavities, maintain the temperature of produce like meat or dairy during transport or to make carpets with. Himalana has made a start with the latter: in co-operation with the non governmental organisation Unnayan Indian weavers make carpets from Himalana wool – under Fair Trade conditions of course.

From the roof of the world into your living room – Fairly Traded carpets made from Himalana wool

Pure new sheep's wool has very special properties: it is temperature regulating and soft but also durable and easy to care for. Wool is ideal for making carpets. Himalana wool carpets are produced in a particularly disadvantaged region in the eastern part of the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

To produce the Himalana wool carpets we work with the Indian non governmental organisation Unnayan. 'It's been 18 years since I first tried to set up a Fair Trade project with Unnayan, we tried to improve the living and working conditions of the carpet weavers by gaining market access for the carpets in Europe. We achieved a lot but in the end the project failed because there just wasn't enough demand', says Dr Martin Kunz, Fair Trade specialist for Himalana. 'With Himalana wool and with the help of Norbert Baldauf from Prolana we now have a lot more options. And the carpet weavers in this part of Uttar Pradesh are so poor and disadvantaged, a Fair Trade approach can really make a difference. I am very happy that there are finally Fairly Traded carpets available.'

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Himalana Wolle - ein ganz besonderer Rohstoff

Himalana Premium Rugs

Collection overview
- Pile Rugs Weave
- Pile Rugs Tuft
- Knotted Rugs
- Woven Rugs Wick Wool

Discover himalana products

Himalana Teppich-Manufaktur mit Aus- und Fortbildungszentrum

Further assortments from Himalana

Upholstery fabrics Wool / Silk GOTS
In addition to GOTS sheep's wool we have also developed GOTS wild silk as part of our organization and infrastructure of the Himalana project. This combination creates one of the highest quality upholstery fabrics available in GOTS quality with wool and silk.

Yoga mats – GOTS & FSC
Our yoga mats have a GOTS certified Himalana wool felt surface. The bottom is made of a FSC and Fair Rubber certified natural latex coating. This prevents the yoga mat from slipping on the floor and thus offers secure grip at all times.

The order for a carpet may ensure survival ... Mohamed Haroon and his family

Steep, uneven steps lead up to the house of the Haroon's and a small workshop. Together with other Muslim families they live on the far side of the village. As for the Haroon's: eleven family members share two of the rooms, the third is needed to store the wool.

Several women are squatting in the neat courtyard amidst piles of wool. They sort it by colour and prepare the shuttles. Next door, set up in the open are eight looms protected from sun and rain by a corrugated iron roof. The frames are sitting on the ground over a pit which holds the pedals needed to operate the loom. This setup allows the weavers to sit more comfortably while they work.

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Of carpets, travel plans and the power of the sisterhood ... Muni Begum and her daughters

A tiled roof protects the two looms at the side of the house from the elements. That's where Muni Begum and her daughter work. Over their banter and laughter you barely notice the rhythmic clacking of the loom.

Next to them on the bench sits 17 year old Jahanara, the youngest of seven children. The women are wrapped up warmly in shawls and scarves, in January it gets cold in northern India, temperatures can drop to below freezing at night.

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Where every rupee counts... Long days at the loom: Anju

Anju's enormous loom takes up most of the space in the courtyard. Her house is at the centre of the village. While Anju is working her youngest daughter, four year old Kanchan, plays next to her, she is the youngest of six daughters. Tied to the wooden gate stands Munmun, Kanchan's pet goat. The animal is wearing a red sweater against the January cold.

With its flowering creepers and numerous pot plants the courtyard seems almost idyllic. But Anju works at the loom for 10 hours a day, from ten in the morning until eight at night. Even as she is talking to us she hardly looks up, the piece she is weaving just has to be ready on time.

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Contact & Imprint

PROLANA GmbH
Am Langholz 3
88289 Waldburg-Hannober, Germany
E-Mail: info@himalana.com
Phone: +49 7529 9721 0

CEO: Norbert Baldauf, Adrian Hellenthal
Handelsregister: Amtsgericht Ulm HRB 551929
USt-IdNr: DE181443688