On the high-altitude plains of the Tibetan Plateau, just outside the monastic city of Xiahe, is a small workshop that produces a product made nowhere else on earth. Here, luxury and sustainability meet in the form of beautiful, handcrafted yak’s wool textiles. See just what makes the Norlha Workshop one of our favorite places to bring WildChina travelers.
A New Use For An Abundant Resource
Norlha, which means “Wealth of the Gods”, is what the nomads in the Tibetan region of Gansu province call their yaks. The animal has long been the nomads’ primary source of income, yet in recent years, overgrazing has put a strain on the fragile environment.
Anthropologist and founder of Norlha Textiles, Kim Yeshi, sought to start a business that would reduce reliance on traditional nomadic herding and create a sustainable lifestyle for the people of western Gansu. Although it had never been tried before, she predicted that the soft, insulating Yak wool (khullu) could be spun into a rich and highly durable fiber, perfect for creating a luxury textile product.
Designing Innovative Production TECHNIQUES
In 2005 Kim’s daughter, Deshen began living in Gansu where she researched the dynamics of the region and collected khullu wool. She traveled to Cambodia and there, the Norlha team innovated a new style of spinning; integrating Nepali and Indian spinning and weaving techniques with a traditional Tibetan style.
Deshen returned to the plateau and personally trained all of Norlha’s newly recruited artisans. Charkhas and Indian looms were brought over from Nepal and custom made spinning wheels were designed and created by Norlha’s own craftsmen.
Thus, Norlha Textiles was born – giving local people the opportunity to use their own raw materials to create a luxurious, high-end product. Today, Norlha employs over 100 nomads and collects yak khullu from many different areas on the Tibetan Plateau. After the wool is spun, dyes that are carefully chosen to be minimally disruptive to the environment are added to the cloth.
Norlha’s collection of yak wool products is ever expanding. Colorful, thick scarves and blankets are their staple designs but they also produce hats and coats in the local Tibetan style. In the future, Norlha hope to be able to offer a full range of clothing and homeware items.
Visiting the Workshop
We love taking our guests to the Norlha workshop to see this incredibly unique production process first-hand. WildChina travelers watch the artisans at work at the different workstations, maybe picking up a few weaving tips, and then find out more about their lives and work over a hot Tibetan meal.
All photos courtesy of Norlha Textiles.
Visit Norlha on our Tibetan Camping Retreat.