On our first sourcing trip in 2013, we journeyed to Shangri La in northern Yunnan province, China. While scouring the numerous tourist oriented shops for true examples of local handicrafts, we came across a small collection of scarves which seemed to stand out before we’d even had a chance to feel them. Our feelings were only confirmed on feeling the material, our very first encounter with Yak Khullu.
Khullu is the warm under layer of hair fibre which keeps Yaks warm through the harsh Tibetan winter. When woven it produces beautifully soft and warm textiles perfect for scarves and other clothing or it can be blended with sheep’s wool or silk for lighter weight products.
It may sound weird to say this but we will never forget this experience. It was immediately apparent we should find out more about the company responsible for making these products and the more we discovered the clearer it became that these products would be perfect for …in a strange land.
Norlha – Yak textiles from the Tibetan plateau
Norlha was founded in 2007 by Kim and Dechen Yeshi, a mother and daughter team who combined their love of textiles with the desire to establish a sustainable project in Tibet. Convinced that the unique undercoat, or Khullu, of the Yak could be spun and woven into something special, Dechen and her brother went on a mission to the Amdo region of Tibet in modern day China’s Gansu province.
“Norlha means ‘Wealth of the Gods’ and is also what the nomads call their yaks, which is only fitting as this animal is the source of all their wealth.”Kim Yeshi, Norlha
Establishing a sustainable business in China
In the two years prior to starting the company the Yeshis collected one ton of raw material and having managed to get it spun and woven in Kathmandu set about the more difficult business of training and employing people more local to the region, specifically Zorge Ritoma to transform the raw material into wonderfully luxurious products. They carried out research and discovered a market. The company employs nomadic yak herding communities for a portion of the year to weave their products, providing them with a way to diversify their income in a world where choosing to live a traditional lifestyle can leave people below the poverty line. The khullu is sourced from throughout Tibet and transported to the workshop where it takes one person one month to spin 2KG of wool from 300kg of raw material. A precious commodity indeed!
The company has been raised from the ground up and now all the employees are local people involved in everything from design to accounting. When the project was started, many of the local people were unable to read or write. It is a great example of the kind of socially responsible business we want to promote and definitely proves that there are truly valuable and precious skills all over the world that we can all benefit from. It also means that nomadic herders in Tibet can feel less inclined to start grazing more and more goats sheep, animals which, in very large numbers are capable of overgrazing the delicate ecosystem of the Tibetan plateau.
The properties of this fabulous material are already well known in France and the US, where it has been used in fashion collections for the last few years. We are so pleased to be able to introduce these products exclusively to the UK and are very proud to be selling Norlha products in our online store.