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MiVT: US Sherpa

Published: Dec. 13, 2021 at 1:12 PM EST
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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) - With winter rolling in, it’s the perfect time to invest in some warm, wool mittens, socks, or hats, like the ones sold by Williston’s US Sherpa.

This wonderful knitwear comes from a Vermont business with deep ties to Nepal. Owner Ongyel Sherpa is one of likely very few people who get to bounce back and forth between Vermont and Nepal.

“I must say, it has been an incredible experience living in this beautiful state,” Sherpa said.

Growing up, Ongyel Sherpa’s father worked as a sherpa, guiding people to Mount Everest, while his mom worked as a knitter, both of which are common in the area.

While growing up in Nepal, in 1998, Sherpa met a Vermont doctor and climber summitting Mount Everest.

That doctor offered to bring Sherpa back to Vermont, sponsoring his education and giving him a place in the United States to call home.

“It was beyond my wildest dream to get an opportunity to come to the United States,” Sherpa said.

He came to the U.S. and graduated from Rice Memorial High School, and later, Champlain College.

In 2005, Sherpa launched his company’s website as a class project. Just one year later, he opened US Sherpa.

Inside his Williston storefront, shoppers can find warm, handmade wool hats, mittens and socks, among other things.

“Being myself from Nepal, seeing my mom knitting hundreds of these beautiful wool hats, gloves, socks, that was really my inspiration,” Sherpa recalled.

And while Sherpa’s dream was born in Vermont and his brand was created in Vermont, we’re bending the rules of this series for this story, as these products are made in Nepal.

“I think what we are doing is to give back through these jobs, which has been the source of some of the income for some of the knitters. And the same thing culturally, people have been doing this for many many years,” explained Sherpa.

For Sherpa, employing artisans in Nepal to knit these products is not outsourcing. Instead, it’s a way to pay tribute to his roots, give back to his home country and keep a connection to home.

“I took a great risk to start the whole thing, but at the same time it was very natural that I do something to give back to the communities back home,” he explained.

Everything about US Sherpa is incredibly intentional, even down to the logo.

“This one is the skyline out Mount Everest. This here is the top of Mount Mansfield,” Sherpa said. He also explains that the red represents Nepal, the green represents Vermont and the blue acts as the sherpa, connecting the two.

That’s exactly what Sherpa is working to do-- connect Vermonters with warm, sustainably sourced knitwear, while employing talented artisans in Nepal, and Vermonters at his Williston-based business.

“I think with our deep roots in Nepal, I think giving back to these folks who are making these products and having my family over there, those are some areas that make us very different,” he said.

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