Hangai textiles.10.19.17271 nbnjwo

Bill and Betina Infante with some of their company's blankets and throws.

Image: Daniel Bayer

 

“Close your eyes,” Betina Infante instructs. We are sitting in her quiet Basalt living room on a fall day with a view out to the snowy flanks of Mount Sopris. “Now feel.”

I reach out to touch the blankets in front of me, one cashmere, the other yak down. Each is equally soft and luxurious.

Yak down, in this case from Mongolia’s Hangai Mountains, has not been widely available in the US. Integral to Mongolian culture and lore, this unusual raw fiber comes from combing the animal’s soft undercoat and then knitting or weaving the resultant yarn into a soft, luxurious textile. Hypoallergenic and water resistant, yak down comes in three gorgeous natural shades: dark chocolate, cappuccino brown, and platinum.

Just as unusual is the life story of Bill and Betina Infante, the founders of blanket importer Hangai Mountain Textiles (hangaimountaintextiles.com), who run their nascent business from Basalt.

The couple landed in the Roaring Fork Valley after 25 years of living abroad (which included stints working for the US State Department) in countries like Sri Lanka, Serbia, Bulgaria, and Indonesia during times of war, economic strife, and natural disasters. They narrowly escaped the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.

Their circuitous journey to Basalt has been blessedly less dramatic. During an intense job performing humanitarian relief in Indonesia, she realized she was burned-out, relates Betina, who has also worked extensively in the private sector, doing global marketing, development communications, and public relations. “We had two little kids, and we knew it was time to take a break,” she says. “Bill had always wanted to go to Mongolia, so that’s where we went.”

The break turned into 10 years of living in the country, where both worked for the Asia Foundation and Betina started Breakthrough Communications, the PR firm she still runs today. But the Infantes also spent time exploring—hiking, horse trekking, and canoeing remote rivers in the north. “It was really a wonderful existence,” Bill says.

In 2014, the Infantes’ two children enrolled at Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, and the whole family quickly fell in love with the Roaring Fork Valley, purchasing a home and eventually moving here full time.

One chilly summer evening while entertaining guests in the new home, Betina had her eureka moment. “We were sitting outside, so I brought out our Mongolian blankets. The next day, all anyone could talk about was the blankets. I thought, ‘Wow, I bet other people in Colorado would love these.’”

She was right.

While still splitting time between Mongolia and Basalt, the couple founded Hangai Mountain Textiles in fall 2015, offering a collection of blankets, throws, and ponchos made of goat cashmere, camel down, and yak down. When Betina dropped by the Aspen Design Room to show some initial samples and gauge interest, she unexpectedly made the first sale. “They fell in love with everything and gave us a massive order,” she says. “I called Bill and said, ‘Oh my god, we better get those labels printed!’”

Now living full time in Basalt, the couple sells the wares nationally through interior design showrooms and locally at the Aspen Design Room and Cathers Home, while also building a market among boutique hotels (the Hotel Jerome features the blankets in its luxury suites). Last summer, the first collection with patterns designed by the Infantes debuted.

In Mongolia, meanwhile, the sustainably focused operation supports herders, knitters, and weavers from start to finish, sourcing fibers and manufacturing all products in the country, then exporting them to the US.

As for the yak down Betina introduced me to, I let my fingers graze across the blanket, feeling something more than just the soft fibers—a faraway place, an ancient herd, and a rare beauty. —Ali Margo

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