When Matthew Scanlan, 30, embarked on a backpacking trip to Mongolia in 2013 when he was in his early twenties, he never imagined he’d return with two million dollars worth of raw cashmere and nomadic herder friends who felt more like family. He’s still baffled that he makes sweaters for a living.
Scanlan is the co-founder and CEO of Naadam, a truly ethical cashmere sweater company. After meeting some guys in a local Mongolian bar on a trip to “find himself at a moon festival,” he recalls, Scanlan and his friend-turned-business-partner Diederik Rijsemus accidentally got into a car headed 20 hours into the absolute middle of nowhere in the Gobi Desert. (If you asked them today, they wouldn’t be able to pinpoint the original location on a map.)
The pair ended up spending a month living with a nomadic herding family in the desert, drinking goat’s milk and living off the land with their new friends from a bar. The witnessed the existing supply chain—favoring the trader, not the herder—and wanted to do something to help. With a personal loan, Scanlan and Rijsemus purchased 60 tons of cashmere with two million dollars in plastic baggies, that’s 65 pounds of cold, hard cash. Their acquisition was driven in 20 tractor trailers for 36 hours to the nearest city.
Entrepreneurship comes in unexpected ways.