With the celebration of the Lunar New Year, Norlha embraces the Year of the Ox, or the yak, as it is considered by many Tibetans. In our first journal entry in this new year, we felt it fitting to touch upon Norlha’s journey in creating a product of Provenance from Yak Khullu.
Provenance ties a product to its origins. Its characteristics are unique to its area and strong identifying factor tying it to the people who made it. Norlha's dedication to provenance runs deep. Our first investment as a company was locating our atelier in a remote area of the Tibetan Plateau, determined to create a product for the premium niche Paris market, while capturing the hearts of the local community. This meant more than offering stable jobs. We strongly believed that if our products resonated with those who made it, ones that would make them feel proud and appreciated, Norlha’s long term survival would be insured.
In the spring of 2007, the local community watched the atelier’s building rise at the entrance of the village with a mixture of awe and skepticism. In a nomadic settlement such as Ritoma, a construction on that scale would have to be a temple or the house of a renowned lama. An atelier was a new concept, but one that we saw as essential in marking our commitment to the area. The center of all our activities would be right here in this small village, accessed only by a dirt road and surrounded by grazing yaks and sheep, not in offices set in far flung cities. We would build a community of artisans, designers and administrators, creating a strong sense of trust, responsibility and empathy amongst the Norlha employees. The atelier would be a place filled with light and warmth, built to inspire those within. It was not a factory, but a place destined to become the heart of Norlha.
Our first local customers appeared in 2009, when we mainly catered to the Paris fashion houses. Tibetan nomads on horseback or motorbike showed up at the atelier gates asking if they could buy small 100% yak wool scarves, known to us as ‘Nomad’. They had heard by word of mouth, coming from the Norlha artisans, that the quality of Norlha’s yak khullu was the best, that the workmanship was the finest and the attention to detail one reserved for the high born of the old days. They had come to perceive a Norlha scarf as a product that embodied their deep respect for the yak and its characteristics, the most fitting for a gift. They stressed the importance of the Norlha logo on the scarf to ensure the recipient could appreciate it as a true Norlha product. This first declaration, one that marked local appreciation of the quality that we strove so hard to attain, was as important a milestone in Norlha’s achievements as was our first order confirmation by Hermes. It confirmed that we had created a product of true provenance, one that local people identify with, one that inspires pride.
Today, Norlha opens its doors once a year to the local community with a sale to clear out its stock, a highly anticipated event by all. Workshop employees get the first pick, followed by the school teachers, Ritoma residents, Labrang Monastery monks, and finally people from beyond the village. Although the items are marked down by more than half, they still represent a sizeable chunk of a local persons’ income, and we were surprised to see the good natured pushing and shoving that the event brought out again and again each year. All feel a bond with the product that goes deeper than its qualities; that it is made by Tibetans on the Plateau and from yak khullu.