At an altitude of 3200m in Gansu province, the company Norlha produces the most exquisite shawls. These shawls, made mainly of yak wool (khullu), have become much sought after in shops from Paris to Shanghai. Nicely Made in China spoke to the owner, Kim Sciaky-Yeshi, to find out what makes them so special and successful.
Kim, when and how did you start this adventure?
I’ve always loved beautifully woven things and had once worked with someone who was making products out of camel’s wool. In my opinion the 3 most beautiful types of wool are that of goats, yaks and camels. I had heard that yak wool was a rare and noble material but nowadays almost forgotten. So in 2005 I decided to send my daughter Dechen and her brother Genam to Gannan Prefecture in Gansu to see what could be done there with yak wool. They bought over a ton of the raw fiber, which they had cleaned and sent by truck to Katmandu, via Lhasa. There, in my friend Christopher Giercke’s workshop, we had it spun and woven, to test the quality. It turned out that we had a wonderful product. Norlha was started in 2007.
What did you do when you realized that you had a beautiful product?
We thought this product could be used to help people stay and work in their home region and also get the benefit of the added value of a completely local product. In the fall of 2006, we sent four people the village of Ritoma to Siem Reap’s Centre de la Soie in Cambodia for a 4-months training course, followed by another 6 weeks at my friend Christopher Giercke’s workshop in Nepal where they learned how to work with wool.
We then bought wooden looms in Nepal and started working in tents while the workshop was being built. We moved-in in November 2007. 2 Nepali experts came for 6 months to teach and train 60 people to spin and weave. Most people already knew but we introduced an Indian technique that people did not know. Today 80 people work in our workshop.
How do you get yak khullu? Who do you buy it from? Do you keep herds?
No we don’t keep herds. We only buy the best khullu from a network of nomads who bring us their wool beginning in May every year. We offer a much better price, but only for the best. You have to understand that yak khullu is not shorn like wool. To collect it you have to wait until it is ready to fall and when it finally falls someone has to be there to handpick it. The best khullu is from two-year-old yaks and it’s the only kind we accept.
Are Norlha shawls exclusively made of yak khullu?
Not exclusively. Yak wool is very dark, so by adding 15% of sheep’s hair for instance, we have more freedom during the creation stage to make various patterns and motifs, as well as to give lighter colors to our products.
How did you establish your name and reputation in the market?
We already had contacts with fashion houses, so in January 2008 Dechen went to Paris to meet them. Today we work with companies such as Antik Batik, Arnys, Juliette Ozouf, Sonia Rikyel, and Christophe Lemaire.
How many collections do you come up with each year?
Each year we have both a spring-summer and an autumn-winter collection. 30 % of each collection is renewed with fresh colors and patterns. We come up with new sizes and shawls of different weights.
What size is a Norlha shawl, where can they be bought?
A big one measures 190 cm X 66 cm (about 74 in X 26 in) and weighs 700g. 5kg of raw fiber is needed to make such a shawl. They can be bought at various locations in China and outside of China: Shanghai Trio stores in Paris and Shanghai, Amanresorts Beijing and Hangzhou sell them too and of course all the fashion houses mentioned in the article.
25 rue de l’exposition 75007 Paris (Metro: Ecole Militaire)
Xintiandi Style Unit 129, 1st Floor, No.245 Madang Road, 200021 Shanghai, TEL. +86 (21) 5358 0188
SWFC - Mori Tower Unit 315, 3rd Floor, No.100 Century Avenue Pudong, 200120 Shanghai, TEL. +86 (21) 5858 3191
Website: www.norlha.fr [in English]