Invisible World, From Rock Bottom in Inner Mongolia to Top of the Heap in Alaska

November 17, 2016

Everybody in business has some point where they hit bottom. The low point for me was in 1991, when I first went to Inner Mongolia to source cashmere. It was something of an obsession for me, rather than a business trip. I’d seen a cashmere sweater in a store that said “Made in Inner Mongolia,” and for various personal reasons, the idea of going to Inner Mongolia in the dead of winter was very appealing at that time. That’s how we do it at Invisible World.

I took an overnight train from Beijing and stumbled out at 5 in the morning in January with the temperature at 10 below zero and an intense smell of burning coal in the air. Everything was dim and dirty. It was Huehote, the capital of Inner Mongolia, and the Communist Era was still in full swing in that factory city.

 

 

 

 

I had the name of a cashmere company written on a piece of paper, but no telephone number or even address. I managed to find the office, and was greeted with some perplexity. At that time there were three kinds of foreigners in China: tourists, students and businessmen, and I didn’t fit neatly into any of those categories. For the next three days the staff treated me to a succession of broken appointments, useless meetings and long periods of waiting for something to happen. I had come a long way to be given the runaround, and it all came to a climax when I was sitting in their office and heard them talking amongst themselves in Chinese. The boss spoke my name, and the the entire staff burst into laughter. I sat there without a card to play.

Or so it seemed. I announced to them that since they couldn’t help me, I was going to get on a bus and to to Dongsheng, an even more end-of-the-world town a day further west, where they also had a cashmere factory. They were alarmed. “They won’t help you!” they said. “You’ll waste your time!” When they saw my resolve to go to their competitor, they assigned me a new person who had just returned to the company, and in short order the new man, Mr. Li, found a way to make things work. I left a few days later with an order and a start in the cashmere business.

To see the fruits of our labors, click here to shop our wide cashmere selection in Women's and Men's styles.



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