By Sass Brown, NYC Editor
Norlha produces luxury accessories and home products from Yak fiber in Tibet. Embracing values, quality and craftsmanship as well as ancestral wisdom and hope in their work, the Norlha collection covers a vast array of wraps, scarves, and throws as well as textiles for the interior market. Previously considered a rough raw material used only for felting and rugged blankets, Norlha have managed to transform the fiber into an exceptional product that links the Tibetan Plateau to the luxury market. Building a base for the local economy, the idea behind Norlha was to capitalize on the rich raw materials that the nomad population manage, by transforming this precious raw materials in the place of origin, for the benefit of the community, and generating gainful employment
The Yak traditionally provides everything neccessary for Tibetans, including meat, milk, hide and fiber. Yak khullu is the precious brown fiber that insulates the Yak from the cold, and is the natural response of a harsh environment at altitudes of more that 2,500 meters. Grazing on the Tibetan Plateau, the Yak provide the Tibetan nomads with much of what they need to survive, and are a means of measuring wealth locally. With 13 million yaks on the Tibetan plateau, and herds of up to 400 head, the animals sustain around three million Tibetan nomads. As the female Yak give birth every spring, this allows for milking every day, right through to the fall, and herders transform the rich nutritious milk into butter and yogurt for consumption.
Traditionally khullu brings little income to herders, and is normally only collected on demand and sold to middlemen who transport the product for weaving elsewhere, resulting in little profit for the herders. Unlike goats, Yak cannot be combed. The soft down that detaches itself naturally in May, has to be removed before it falls off and is discarded. Although generally even-tempered animals, the Yak have to be tied and laid on the ground to have their khullu removed, a time consuming and hazerdous task that does not harm the animals. Since the sale of khullu has traditionally not yielded much income for the nomads, and is in conflict with other, more lucrative activities, Norlha had to spend years to promote their Yak fiber project by setting up three collecting stations where nomads could sell their wool year round. By purchasing directly from herders, and bypassing the middlemen, allowed Norlha to offer a better price for the fiber to the herders.
Norlha carefully select and buy only the best Yak fiber, then supervise the washing and de-hairing process before sorting and separating qualities suitable for yarn or felting. Fiber is separated by quality as well as by color, with the rarer gray and beige, the most prized. The yarn is dyed in house, and the traditional Indian Charkha wheel is used for spinning, with imported Indian shuttle looms for weaving. The fiber itself has unique characteristics that include softness, ruggedness and great warmth, and it’s longer lasting than cashmere, which is currently under threat due to climate change.
Photo Credit: Norlha