Yaks are usually associated with dark colors; I even coined one called ‘Yak Black’. A herd of yaks from the distance is a splatter of black dots on green, or ocre, or yellow, depending on the season and the shade of the pasture. When we began to work with yak wool, we noticed that many people turned away from it for the dark shades of its wool. Bleaching was against our principles, so we turned to grey yaks, which are rare, but gave us an opportunity for brighter colors.
Then we discovered white yaks, albinos of the species, found in small numbers in some herds. There is also an area with only white yaks, the result of a scheme from the 80’s when a Professor at Lanzhou Agricultural University directed his research project on the breeding of albino yaks. The pretext was to create a lighter species to improve the yak wool industry. I met him in 2006, a frail, white haired man who considered the white yak the accomplishment of his life. We discovered later that the University had lost interest in the project, the industry never giving it their attention. The yaks were sold to nomads and herded away somewhere on the Plateau where they bred and multiplied in the shadow of the ever-expanding cashmere market, providing mostly the wig market, so we heard.
White yaks are not completely white; when we buy the wool and mix it, the shade is a little different every year, reflecting that of the overall herd. One of our clients had named the color of their felted hat ‘ciment’ to discover later, with the new batch, that it was more like ‘mastic’.