Explore the origin of Imperial Cashmere

“You don’t build a business. You build people, then people build the business.” – Zig Ziglar

Born and raised in Nepal, my name is Rushma Gilchrist, and I am the co-founder of Imperial Cashmere. Growing up, my dad was always abroad working hard to send us to good private schools, and my mom was a government employee.

During that time, everyone at my mom’s workplace was more like a family than just a coworker. There was a strong sense of community. Everyone treated me and my sister like their own family members. Since, most of the time my dad was gone, we would spend a few days here and there with our mom at her office during our school breaks.

She worked at a parent company under the Ministry of Commerce in Nepal that monitored all aspects of trading goods in Nepal. One of its duties was to supply bonded warehouses and duty-free goods. And because they needed quality products for the duty-free store at the international airport, they needed quality suppliers. There were tons of vendors that visited my mom’s office with samples of their products to showcase. Out of those products, the one that was coveted the most was handmade 100% cashmere scarfs.

While I visited my mom’s work, I had a chance to feel and see different qualities of cashmere, including handmade 100% cashmere scarves, 70% cashmere 30% wool/silk blend cashmere scarves, and all other cashmere blended scarves vs. imitation and fake cashmere products. I was quickly able to pick up on what kind of cashmere is in high demand and why. I could differentiate between 100% cashmere that is meticulously handwoven and one that is not, or is a fake cashmere.

Apart from learning about cashmere from visiting my mom’s office, I was also exposed to the tourism industry since my childhood. My family has been in tourism for over 30 years now. My uncles would always stock up on handmade 100% cashmere to give as gifts and souvenirs for their high-end clients. So, in a way, I grew up feeling and knowing real, quality cashmere.

Later, I learned that Nepalese cashmere is one of the highest in-demand luxury fibers, and that many tourists are excited to get their hands on some to bring home as souvenirs. It is valued for its warmth, as well as its quality and durability. For many who travel to Nepal, their handmade cashmere souvenirs serve as a memory for life, of the time they visited a beautiful country that is truly rich in culture.

I soon followed my uncle’s footsteps and joined the tourism industry where I had a chance to fly to different rural Himalayan regions of Nepal where cashmere is produced. I had a chance to experience the raw materials myself.

Imperial cashmere- Founder's picture-Women is in bodycon white dress and men is dressed on blue suit and tie

Later, I came to the USA where I met my spouse – Ryan Gilchrist. I figured out he is a huge Cashmere fan, and I was excited to gift him one. When shopping for cashmere in the shops in the U.S., I discovered all these Cashmeres are imported from bigger countries. The high-end brands certainly had the quality that I was looking for, but it was disheartening to know that people aren’t aware of how unique Nepali handwoven textiles are – especially cashmere. Nepalese have been handweaving cashmere for centuries and their culture is deeply rooted in hand weaving 100% cashmere products. Handweaving textiles and especially cashmere, which is very delicate, requires not only attention to detail, but also a desire and passion to carry on the art. It takes about 23 hours to handweave one 100% cashmere scarf from start to finish.

It made me think, “maybe, the cashmere available here might even be imported from Nepal, with these big brands’ name on it!” That’s when I decided that I would restore the reputation of the Nepalese cashmere industry by bringing it to the Western market. For not only is cashmere the backbone of the Nepalese economy, along with tourism… Handweaving cashmere is a culture that has been passed on for generations, and if not preserved, this ancient tradition will soon be lost.

Without a second thought, I shared my desire with my spouse. I have been very fortunate to be blessed with such an adorable spouse who loves me and supports me unconditionally. He has always listened to me without any judgement and makes me feel very accepted. He was able to see my vision and my passion, and so he decided to support me on my journey and be a part of our journey together.

I knew if I did not take the steps necessary to preserve this piece of Nepalese culture, it may soon be lost forever… The trends of Nepalese youth flying abroad in search of better opportunities has been ever increasing. This leaves very few to carry on cashmere weaving skills. The mass production from machine knitting imposes more challenges to the Nepalese artisans. On the other hand, not only does the handweaving process take longer as compared to the machine woven cashmere, but it is also challenging to find reliable artisans with high production standards. On top of that, Nepal is a landlocked country, it, more difficult to trade with. A lot of old cashmere factories that I knew of were shut down due to COVID-19, or they were producing imitation cashmere products to survive competition withbigger countries.

With all these challenges placed, I wasn’t sure if our vision was ever going to come into fruition. Especially, with me having left Nepal for so long, I wasn’t confident if I would be able to find a reliable factory, with quality cashmere, and if I would be able to manage logistics of it all. Most of my prior connections were out of business or out-of-contact. I tried getting ahold of them through every media possible – Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, Everything, but still I had no luck. I had almost given up hope until Ryan (my husband) came to me and suggested to check if my mom still knows someone from her working days.

It was around 12 PM CST in the USA which is around 11 PM in Nepal. Generally, everything shuts down by 9 PM. People go to bed by 10 PM and my mom goes to bed by 9 PM. But because I had ants in my pants, I called my mom at 11:30ish PM in Nepal. She panicked when I called her, thinking it was an emergency, but when I told her what I called her for, I drove her up the wall.  Since she is a very sweet lady, she agreed to share her contacts with us given I call her at her 10 AM, which is 11PM in the USA. I couldn’t stop looking at the clock the whole day after that. I called her at exactly 10 AM and she shared with me more than 10 of her cashmere contacts.

I thought it would be smooth sailing from here. My plan was to be in touch with my mom’s contacts, see the catalogues, have some video chats with them back and forth and see their processes. Then, select the best vendors to supply cashmere yarn and find a reliable factory. I thought to myself that I will first talk to them and translate communication to Ryan. For that, I will call the vendors and factories, Ryan and I will select colors and designs, have them send us a few samples, go through the vendor selection process, and have them knitted at the factory.  We thought, after that, it is as simple as now getting the products and sharing the part of Nepali Heritage that I am so proud to be a part of.

To our dismay, things did not go the way we planned. After I got in touch with these vendors, I found out they did not have any sort of online presence and were technologically challenged. These vendors have been selling their products for hundreds of years at local markets, and their technology has never been updated ever since. So, we told them send us whatever they thought was their best work, so that we could see and feel it for ourselves.

To add to our pain, Nepal being a landlocked country, it was a challenge to export. And when we finally had the samples in the USA, some of them even sent us fake cashmere, despite them having a good reputation back in the day. We realized that to survive the increasing challenges imposed by the bigger countries in the cashmere industry, even the well reputed vendors and factories have now started selling fake cashmere with a 100% cashmere label on it. Having gone through the rigorous process of selecting a reliable factory to work with, we finally found one that met our high standards. They had been in the industry for about 11 years, sustainably and ethically source their raw materials, and they guarantee the quality we were after. It took us at least 4-5 months to find our current partner.

We thought to ourselves, “Finally, the storm is over,” but it wasn’t. Parts of our shipments were stolen as they passed through Nepal customs. We had to reorder most of the products again.

Going through the painful journey of searching for a reliable factory, we learned we need to work with our family back home to ensure the quality on the ground. We had to ensure that our products are going through rigorous quality check. That means 3 or more levels of quality review. But in the end, it was all worth it. Now we can proudly say that we are able to deliver highest quality Nepali Handmade cashmere that meets our standards for sustainability, ethical sourcing, and humanitarian values. Though there is always something to learn along the way, one thing we can be very sure that we deliver, is customer satisfaction.

We started this journey with the hope of restoring the good reputation of the Nepalese cashmere industry. We knew all along that we would be able to deliver this wonderful cashmere that we love so much. What we did not expect is how much we would fall in love with the community of people in Nepal make it all possible. We were not aware that we would be able to use our platform to lift them up and bring prosperity to this developing country; and that we would make lifelong friends and partners along the way, who believe in the same ideals we believe in. Everyone deserves an opportunity if they are willing to work for it. We are so grateful for the lives of people and animals that are positively impacted and sustained though our operations.

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