Live like you want. Live Altaika
In 2001, while on a dirt track near Belukha Mountain, Central Asia, I discovered hand crafted sheepskin vests; people were wearing them. Belukha Mountain itself is the highest peak in the Altai range straddling Kazakhstan, Russia, China and Mongolia and is part of the World Heritage Site entitled Golden Mountains of Altai. There are forests, meadows and small glaciers everywhere.
Each vest was simple but absolutely unique: no two were alike. They were versatile and warm and scruffy and wild with many small imperfections in the stitching because they were handmade and made from hundreds of different pieces of sheepskin: extraordinary!
That’s what I was looking for – a practical, flexible, handy, all natural, not-run-of-the-mill vest with a fresh look that was 100% handmade. These vests were earthy, breathed freedom, and retained the scent of real leather – not the perfect and sanitized versions found in Parisian or Milanese high end shops.
I discovered what I was looking for and I wanted others to enjoy them as well. And so, I figured – why not share a piece of this thousand year old handicraft with other lovers of history, lovers of the outdoors and lovers of freedom?
Each vest has a story; each is a conversation piece; each is rugged, especially when compared to most modern outer gear which is “flawlessly made” by machines. In life, one needs reminders of what it means to be a part of nature. I say return to the outdoors – even if for only a few hours a week. Every now and then I yearned to catch my own fish and prepare them over a wood fire with the smell of decaying leaves in the air. If you like it Neat and Perfect, it’s not Altaika.
When snowmobiling or fishing or gardening or riding a bike or horse down to the grocery store, I didn’t like wearing a coat with synthetic fibers that I knew would melt before burning, could cause me to overheat from doing nothing, was hazardous to the environment and could easily accumulate electrical charges with the approach of a thunder storm. No thanks.
I hankered after something that captured what I loved most – the outdoors and nature and good old fashioned living. And camping with buddies!
During the fall, winter and spring, I wanted to walk and hike and go birding and chop wood and board and hunt and ride but in a way not unlike people of old got around before the emergence of the industrial revolution. And I wanted what I wore to reflect how I felt, not contradict it.
There had to be some traditional gear out there with no synthetics and that wasn’t about “performance” or about “being cutting edge” or about “breaking world records” or about “wicking”. I just needed something to slip on, keep warm and do those simple things: play, walk and enjoy the outdoors knowing that my “outerwear” was the real thing.
I loved everything about Altaika. Simple people making down-to-earth useful outer wear that did not require droves of designers nor technicians from Tokyo or Helsinki or Venice. The materials in these vests did not resemble those that are used in modern day high tech laboratories (like polytetrafluoroethylene and other fluoropolymers) to produce shine, bonding and porosity. I wanted to get away from all that and wanted rarity, originality and functionality. I thought I had found it. Altaika’s capture freedom; do not confine; they breathe and hold up in the face of constant use, both indoors or out. And they are useful and easy to put on.
This is why traders and nomads, young and old, wear them in Central Asia from the Altai to the Tien Shien Mountains and from the Kazakh steppes to the Mongolian deserts. Altaika bring you back to the days when life was less complicated.
In today’s world, excellence is equated with perfection – no errors or no inefficiencies in the process of making cloths, food, machines or whatever. If you like it neat and perfect, it’s not an Altaika. And so, the real folk ware Altaika because they know how to live without falling victim to peer pressure. Altaika tell the story of uniqueness, comfort, warmth and freedom. Altaika are not for everyone – you will either love them or hate them. I love them and so do lots of other real people. I hope you will too.