Norlha: Celebrating Ten Years

An anniversary makes us look back and take measure of where we are now versus what we were then. Ten years ago this time, Norlha moved into its new building, a traditional structure of wood and bricks that stood at the low end of the slope at the entrance of Jordey, the main village in Ritoma, home of the Monastery and the school. We had thirty employees, all from the village, who had been working in army tents since spring; one for the weavers, one for the spinners, an office tent and a kitchen tent.

On November 14th, they packed up the tents pitched in the plain below the workshop and began moving the looms and other equipment into the new building. Though the construction had had its own crew of builders, the process had been one all followed and participated in at crucial moments; putting up the pillars and beams, clearing earth from the courtyard and laying the roof. Norlha was a first in the village, in the area.

Though the project was new, there was a feeling of belonging, working at something new on their ancestral land, alongside family and neighbors, still participating in the nomadic activities that most of their families still upheld. Though making scarves from yak wool was new, everything else about Norlha was familiar; the raw material was from the yak, the animal that was the source of all the nomad’s wealth, and spinning and weaving had been practiced by all of them through centuries.

This time ten years ago, we had produced our first scarves, then our first rolls of fabric. We had our first photo shoot and had begun the search for customers in Paris, where we were near receiving our first order, from Arnys, a beautiful men’s shop on the rue de Sevres. Now, ten years later, the number of employees has grown to 130. Most, who were in their twenties when we started, have started families, and 45 children were born since 2007. Even more grandchildren were born to our older employees (people in Ritoma marry young). The range of our products had multiplied manifold, and our building surface has tripled.

We look to the future, and hope that this enterprise will first set an example and be the first of many to provide opportunity on the Tibetan plateau. Today, November 14th, we had a simple ceremony where we gave gifts to all the employees who were with us since the beginning, a hearty meal of momo, basketball all afternoon and thukpa in the evening.