The yak is the nomad’s most precious commodity, the source of all ‘nor’ or wealth on the Tibetan Plateau - the bond between yak and herder sacred. Yaks contribute to maintain a delicate ecosystem; they graze on a high variety of flora, fertilising the land which they're manure, spreading seeds with their hooves. Characterised by the long shaggy hair that hangs down below its belly and a dense down-like undercoat, the yak also holds a hidden treasure; the precious fibre Tibetans call khullu that insulates it from the bitter winter cold. 

Spring on the Plateau begins with the birth of a new crop of yeko, or baby yaks. The female yak, or dri, gives birth once a year to a single calf. The yak does not wait for grass or warmth to begin new life, with the yeko appearing on a bare landscape of tawny earth and sharp winds before the pasture begins to shift from brown to a tentative shade of green - protected by the soft layer of khullu they will keep until their first molt, the following summer. 

Yaks are neither clipped or combed for their fibre, and animals are never deprived of their natural protection. Khullu is a molt, and if not gathered on time, it naturally falls, lost to everyone. Khullu begins to loosen in June when the temperatures on the plateau warm, leaving a narrow window for herders to collect the loose and falling hair from the yaks, which is done by carefully prying the loosening fibre, which can come off in large strips of wool.

The Yak can take up to a month to complete the process of shedding. Around the end of July, wool collectors will travel around to buy any collected wool off of the herders. If it was a particularly rough winter, the shedding can start later, and can also depend upon the health of the individual yak. If the yak is poorly, it might not shed at all, in which case the herder will not shear or forcefully remove the wool.

Tibetan nomads never historically spun or wove their khullu. Too matted and short, their preference instead was to use sheep wool for felting and weaving; khullu used only to insulate winter encampments. Norlha has worked with nomads to revive and restore the collection of khullu on the plateau. Once collected, Norlha choose the best fibre, which is processed naturally and never bleached, retaining all its bounce and insulating properties, sorted according to quality and colour. 

Most yaks are dark brown; a herd of yaks from the distance a smattering of black dots on green or ocre, depending on the season and the shade of the pasture. There are a small number in a herd which will bare grey or golden brown coats and even fewer, the most prized, are white. At Norlha, we discovered the virtues of white yak wool, ranging from shades of off white to ivory, and greatly appreciate its rarity and versatility.

Khullu is a fibre of many virtues, one of which is durability. This comes from the natural quality of the fibre, the resulting textile retains its shape, resists pilling and will last long enough to be passed on to the next generation. Norlha carefully sources its khullu, seeking out the softest, the baby yak’s first molt. This khullu is of exceptional quality and can come detached in a single piece if collected as it comes loose.

Discovering yak khullu, Norlha uncovered a hidden gem and revealed its qualities and ability to seamlessly blend with other precious fibres, allowing the creation of a variety of textiles suited for all seasons. Over the years, the Atelier has acquired an intimate knowledge of khullu, from spinning, weaving, felting and boiling, gradually mastering yet undiscovered techniques that allow for infinite creative possibilities.