Norlha Textiles | Our Story: Life at Norlha on the Tibetan Plateau
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Life at Norlha

Norlha's Carpet Collection

Tibetan carpets are recognized in the world of home décor for their colorful patterns and for a quality that will last you a lifetime. Conclusive evidence on weaving traditions on the Tibetan plateau can be found as early as AD 600 during the time of Tibet’s great king Songtsen Gampo and later, during China’s Tang dynasty. Over the centuries, Tibetan designs have reflected influence from India, Persia and China, though weaving techniques are uniquely Tibetan, a distinctive method of mounting the warp on a vertical loom.

In June of 2016, Norlha opened its carpet section in Labrang, a reflection of Norlha’s efforts to preserve and uphold tradition. Our carpets are knotted from Central Tibetan sheep wool, known for its fine, long fiber and which was, until the middle of the 20th century, Tibet’s main export. Today it has been largely forgotten and it has become increasingly rare to find carpets woven purely out of Tibetan wool.

As in all our projects, Norlha works in vertical fashion, supervising all steps in a process. We separate, wash and clean the wool which we have personally sourced thoroughly, retaining only the very softest of the fibers in each batch. We work only with natural shades of wool and to obtain variations we mix yak wool fiber into our thread, a process unique to Norlha.

The wool for our carpets is hand spun, taking a woman twenty days to spin the wool for a single carpet. Our carpets are knotted on traditional Tibetan vertical looms and it takes a weaver up to 30 days to weave a standard sized carpet, making the final product nearly two months to complete.

Though we use Tibetan weaving and knotting techniques, we innovate with simplified Tibetan inspired designs, making our carpets adaptable to a wide range of decorative environments. A Norlha rug is timeless and made to last a family a lifetime. .

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Norlha's Heritage Collection

Norlha products are about being comfortably chic. They are cross-cultural and men and women of all ages can easily find a pretext for discarding the need to conform to common identities by sporting the scarf that truly embraces their unique individuality,

Norlha’s 2017 collection, highlights the importance of the ‘Heritage’ concept. We seek to evoke a sense of nostalgia for products with stories and in Norlha’s case, in the handiwork that went into the product, the raw nomadic life of the people who made it and the cross cultural identity of the designers. This collection is a happy mix of fashion and vintage. It encourages people to be fashion forward, contributing positively to a colorful future all the while paying tribute to the past. The combination of the workmanship in a Norlha product, the artisan’s story and the inspiration behind the design are what brings our products to life. Heritage is an invitation to let Norlha become who you are for generations to come.

The Spring/Summer scarves of Norlha’s Heritage collection are a blend of yak and silk giving a light, enveloping scarf, shielding one from the spring breeze. Farewell winter, and welcome to new beginnings! .

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Serwu Kyap

For Norlha employees, who lived as nomads, work at the atelier is a new chapter in their lives. Though sheltered from the snow, rain and snow, they still remain very connected to their environment.

Serwu kyap was born on the grasslands of Amdo, the second in a family of four sons. Raised a nomad, he participated in his family’s life, herding sheep and yak until the age of 27, when he joined Norlha. There, he became acquainted with accounting, Excel and computers, a life very different from the one he had lived previously.

Serwu kyap has three sons, two of monks at Labrang Monastery, studying Buddhist dialectics. His youngest son lives with him. Theirs is a family who has successfully embraced modernity while keeping alive traditional values and culture.
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The Color Red

From the five element colors, red is fire, a source of warmth, comfort and protection in a hostile environment.

On the grassland, red belongs to the red poppy, that sprouts at the height of the flower season, in mid July and the autumn berries that children are so fond of. In the world of man, this hue of life and death finds its place in the temples and monasteries, as a part of the spectrum of sacred tones; darker shades of red, then melting into oranges and culminating in yellow. On the walls and in the friezes, red is the highest accent of the spectrum. Among lay people, it is used in belts, to accent the black or dark red chubas for both men and women. Men use it to fringe their hats, or string into their hair. In the past, a bright red was obtained through a complicated dyeing process using lak, a natural dye.

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Women's Day

Traditional nomad women have hard lives. The generation of women now in their sixties typically bore a dozen children, many having experienced the loss of several due to harsh conditions. Life was a struggle of never ending chores in freezing temperatures and outdoor blizzards, driving animals to pastures for grazing, guarding them against wolves or rescuing them from the blinding menace of fog.

Today, Norlha’s atelier walls are filled with the early morning bustle of greetings and laughter as artisans settle into their work stations. After ten years of struggle with the fast paced world of fashion, Norlha is able to commit to an employee base of over 120 artisans. 65% of these are women, their ages ranging from 19 to 65, with the average being 38 years old. For the first time in these women’s lives, their existence on the plateau is no longer a struggle. They can work in heated workrooms, their meals provided for. At 5:30 in the evening they return to their homes and spend time with their children and aging parents. Today, these women have become providers for their families thanks to the steady cash flow from their salaries.

In 2016, Norlha ventured deeper into helping women through the formation of the club S.E.W.N (Strength and Empowerment for Women of Norlha). Club S.E.W.N includes daily yoga classes, a women’s basketball team, English classes, Saturday night dinners with games, music, singing and dancing. Today, while we have ten committed members, others come and join various activities when time allows. Club S.E.W.N has allowed our women to gain confidence and their place in a world where it is not always easy to be a woman.

Happy Women’s day!

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The Kangtsa Cave

In 2010, we discovered the nearby monastery of Kangtsa, a beautiful, small monastery studded with junipers, spread over a hill in a quiet, wooded valley an hour from Ritoma. Yidam had heard there was a sacred cave somewhere in the area, where hermits had dwelled and which pilgrims still sought out for blessings. We asked a monk to take us there and set off. Had I seen the cave from the bottom of the hill, I don’t know if I would have mustered the courage to climb up there, but fortunately, I didn’t.

After making our way to a narrow gorge flanked by steep bramble covered hills, we climbed sharp graveled path for an hour and spotted the mouth of the cave, marked by prayer flags and tsa tsas. I had never been in a holy cave before, though I had imagined it, caves with passages one could get lost in, where meditators had lived and died. This one fitted the profile; the monk said one could go deeper and deeper, get lost and never return.

Meditators had dwelled at various depths in its many recesses leaving the blessings that pilgrims sought climbing all the way up here. It was one of those secret, unassuming places which are spread all over the Tibetan Plateau, some still occupied by meditators, known to pilgrims as places of power and blessing.

The monk, Dunko, Dechen and Noryang squeezed themselves through a narrow opening into the next, pitch black, cave. Their flashlights revealed a rock floor gleaming with humidity littered with white scarves and the green Mao faces on the money scattered about. One could go deeper; there were ropes to help the pilgrims find their way in there dark, but the monk said that people had died deep into the cave in bad times and that pilgrims didn’t wander too far into it, out of respect.

We sat outside the mouth for a while, then made our way down. I felt like I was leaving an old friend, a refuge, though, as a consolation, I found that I could bring myself mentally back to the cave and partake of the feeling of peace I had felt in the few moments I had spent there.

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Wind Horse

Tibetans believe in the positive energy of wind, a strong and exuberant force that can yield great power. This wind can be ridden, like a horse, and harnessed through renunciation. When giving up possessions and power, one attains the freedom of riding the wind horse.

Amdo is the land of horses. From the tops of mountains to the banks of the most beautiful lakes, nomads call for the victory of the gods and scatter myriads of paper wind horses to the sky.

Dugya Bum is 24 years old. He is a dyer at Norlha atelier but also a skilled horseman. He often poses for Norlha shoots riding across the plateau on his stallion. In his free time he helps train horses for friends and fellow villagers.

In this month of February when the wind is the strongest we wish that your “windhorse” may soar and good fortune await you!

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