For centuries, across the Tibetan Plateau on ‘the roof of the world’, the nomads have lived in harmony with their natural surroundings and kept themselves warm in a uniquely natural way.
This is thanks to the ‘sacred’ yak and the ‘Khullu’ wool it grows as an under-layer to protect itself from harsh winters. This precious fibre cannot be obtained by combing, shaving or any forceful method. Instead the nomads wait patiently for the yaks to shed this layer naturally at the beginning of summer when it is no longer needed. Only then is the fibre collected, respectfully and with gratitude, in line with the dominant philosophy here that revolves around taking gently from Mother Nature and ensuring continued balance.
In the nearby Norlha atelier, the slow process continues. Here, artisans utilise ancient handcraft techniques passed down to them from older generations, whilst collaborations with leading designers, such as London-based Jo Cook, helps the label retain its contemporary edge.
The finished textiles and garments – dyed with natural pigments, reflecting the local culture through a combination of rich earthy and vibrant colours – resist pilling and hold their shape, each made to last a lifetime and be passed on.
With its name meaning ‘wealth of the gods’ in Tibetan, Norlha is a heart-warming antidote to fast fashion and an award-winning business (a certified B Corp, awarded by the UN Development Programme, and awarded and officially recognised by the Chinese government as a poverty alleviation company) with a number of ethical layers. Whilst being kind to both the animal provider of the raw material and the environment, the enterprise sustainably boosts its fragile local economy, preserving culture, honouring generations of herding, hand-spinning, weaving, felting…
Kim Yeshi, an anthropologist married to a Tibetan academic, and her daughter Dechen founded Norlha in 2007 and have since provided over 40,000 hours of training in textile and management skills, and long-term employment for local people who were previously almost entirely dependent on cattle. The label has hence helped to reduce the impact of overgrazing on the landscape.
Norlha’s scarves, clothing, homewares and gifts are available via various worldwide stockists and their online store: https://www.norlha.com/. To privately view some of the Norlha items currently held in the UK, you should contact the team via their website.
Norlha’s sister company, Norden Travel, offers travellers an experience of authentic Tibetan life from a remote camp – “a place where Nomadic tradition dances with contemporary culture. Ancient past evolves into a mindful future. And raw wilderness awakens a peaceful spirit.”
Encouraging the rise of a lesser known, much-loved sport in the region, Norlha also has its own basketball teams for men, women and children, including those with disabilities. Their coaches include former NBA players.
Photo credit for all images to Nikki McClarron