From Tibet to Bavaria

2017 / February / 23 / Behind the Scenes /

mong our footwear, you’ll find one product line made from a unique material with a special story to tell – our Hanwag Yak collection. But what makes yak leather so special? The answer lies in the mountains of Asia, in Tibet…


Yak leather – a unique, exceptional material

Yaks are a high-mountain ox, native to central Asia. The name yak originates from the Tibetan language. The leather is not only in high demand in Tibet and Nepal, but also here in Germany. We produce a special collection made from exclusive yak leather. It has a naturally uneven appearance and a coarse texture that looks great. Each boot is one of a kind. The leather also has unusual characteristics. Despite the fact that it’s thicker and stronger, it’s still very supple. Due to the extreme weather conditions on the Tibetan Plateau, yaks have rough shaggy hair, dense woolly undercoats and particularly tough hides that give a unique leather. The specific surface structure with its rugged markings and fine grain makes yak leather unique.

Traditional leather manufacturing in Tibet

All of the yak leather that we use at Hanwag comes from the Tibetan Lhasa Leather Factory. This leather manufacturing facility is in Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The factory modernized in 1990 and has been producing high-quality leather and adhering to strict corporate social responsibility standards ever since. The tanning process at Lhasa is very complex. After arriving at the factory, the hides are stored underground to cure for nearly four months. Then the hides, which are about 1.5 centimetres thick, are cleaned and carefully tanned – the process takes three weeks. Finally, employees stretch out the hides to dry on wooden frames. There are many steps on the road to making yak leather.

Straight out of the wilderness

Where do the hides come from that end up in Lhasa for manufacturing? Ten experienced Lhasa employees buy the best hides available at the three biggest national markets in December each year – the Tibetan Lhasa Leather Factory processes between 4,000 and 6,000 yak hides annually.

Our Tibetan Yaks are herd animals and travel with their herdsmen from pasture to pasture. Factors such as the time of year and whether to head for higher or lower mountain pastures influence the route, which is usually decided spontaneously. There are no yak farms. If they decide to settle, the herders set up their tents – large, brown yurts – which are the nomads’ mobile shelters. However, even here, there are signs of technical evolution. Herders ride motorbikes, not horses. Some yurts even have solar panels. The perfect combination of tradition and modernization – rather like here at Hanwag…

For an overview of our yak products, click here.