Norlha turns yak fibers into luxurious textures
Norlha means “wealth of the gods” and it refers to the millions of yaks that roam the mountains at very high altitudes of 3200 meters, and provide the nomads of the area with all their basic needs: milk for butter and cheese; heavy black fibers to insulate their tents. Since its creation in 2008, Norlha’s philosophy and mission is to provide a sustainable development model around yak fiber, and to aid the herdsmen on the Tibetan Plateau in diversifying their income and helping them find employment opportunities.
Norlha is the first project of its kind in Tibet, and a great alternative for preserving an ancient culture that can still be saved thanks to herdspeople’s traditional skills and precious raw materials. Approximately 1,500 people share the immense pastures of this region with 6,000 yaks and 2,000 sheep. Although the yak is the primary animal of the region, the tribespeople were not reaping any economic benefit with the entire animal could offer, which resulted in selling its fibers as raw materials at below commodity prices.
Grazing altitudes over 2,500 meters with temperatures below thirty degrees Celsius, the yak is able to keep warm and protect it from extreme temperatures with a precious layer of brown fiber called khullu that’s found under its thick black hair.
Khullu is a soft fiber with insulating qualities, and the best khullu comes from a two year-old yak that sheds it coat in the spring. The undercoat can only be collected by hand, a little at a time, as it loosens through the shedding process. Once gathered, Khullu fibers are sorted for quality and color. Spinning is the next step, and this is where Norlha’s innovation and knowledge of the fiber comes to place at the workshop in Zorge Ritoma, a small nomad settlement in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Gannan, Gansu Province, China. Dechen Yeshi, who now runs the Norlha workshop, went to the Tibetan plateau and gathered two tons of yak khullu with the help of several nomad families. By working right from source she was able to assess the qualities, problems and realities around this little known fiber with high insulation powers and that is more resistant to wear and tear than cashmere.
Tibetan nomads were only spinning to insulate their homes in winter; traditionally a practical people with no need for elaborate textiles, they spin the fibers by using a drop spindle. To modernize the process to create luxury fabrics, new technologies and traditions were brought to the region by Norlha from Cambodia, Nepal and India; thus far, forty women have been trained in the method of charkha spinning wheels. Indian looms were also brought to achieve wide widths that allow for a whole range of textiles, weights, and designs.
All of this is part of a world-class social enterprise where yak wool textiles are designed following international trends. Through the production and commercialization of beautiful scarves and throws, Norlha merges nomadic culture with the resources from the area to achieve a sustainable model where luxury and development converge. According to Kimeerly Sciaky Yeshi, one of Norlha’s founders, “The Norlha product is a combination of a careful selection of the best khullu, itself high end fiber, processed in an innovative manner to produce the best possible product.”
In Paulette Cole’s words, Chief Executive Offiver of ABC Carpet and Home, “Beauty is the spoonful of sugar, which allows you to become aware of the need for service in the world. We all need beauty, and we can satisfy that need while creating beauty and planetary health for others, too.” Or as Gandhi said: “There is no beauty in the finest cloth if it makes hunger and unhappiness.” This is true for Norlha, which is the first project of its kind in the region, and a true example of how old can transition into the new--peacefully and respectfully of everyone involved.
For more information about Norlha, please visit http://eng.norlha.fr