Over the last fifteen years, while working on the Tibetan Plateau, we witnessed the ancient Tibetan weaving and spinning traditions disappearing before our eyes. However, it’s not too late to bring those traditions back and make them sustainable activities.
Your donations will provide the much needed help in building a sustainable and ethical textile chain from animal breeding to fiber collection, spinning, weaving and natural dying, all on the Tibetan Plateau, creating a “Made By Tibetans” label that will produce small products, textiles, garments and handspun yarn whose profit will benefit directly all the families involved, in particular women, as well as the shepherds in these areas from whom the wool will be purchased.
Who Are We?
Paola Vanzo and Andrea Dominici , co-founders of mYak Tibetan Fibers . We know the nomadic herders of the Tibetan Plateau very well. We have been living and working with them for more than twenty years. By now we have become a bit nomadic, too. We are both Italian. Andrea is a veterinarian and fiber expert and lives in Piemonte in Italy. Paola now lives in New York with her family. We both have extensive experience in project management, social entrepreneurship as well as a rich knowledge in everything 'fiber', but above all, we have a deep appreciation for Tibetan culture and traditions and much love for the Tibetan people. We respect what they love and believe in, and share their way of life and work. Together we are contributing towards the future of a nomadic population representing one of the most ancient in the world.
Why Are We Here?
It started with a dream. A dream we had for a long time, a dream filled with wool, looms and spindles, a dream that would allow many Tibetan women to make a living while reviving ancient traditions.
For years, while working on the Plateau, we saw flocks of sheep with their majestic horns roaming the grassland and wondered if we could ever transform that fiber, which has been used for centuries to weave the most beautiful carpets in the world, into yarn for the hand knitting community.
We achieved part of that dream with our Tibetan Cloud Yarn collection , but we knew that this was not enough, and felt a sense of urgency when we saw ancient skills slowly disappearing as old masters passed away and as the fast-paced world pushed certain traditions aside.
The Tibetan saying “mi chig la den chig,” or “a carpet for every person,” would not surprise anyone who has visited a Tibetan home or monastery. One of the most essential and prized items for farmers, nomads, monks or aristocrats, the Tibetan woolen rug is possibly the single cultural artifact that serves in all types of dwelling across the plateau; gracing adobe-floored rooms, the ground under a yak-hair tent, warming the hearth and soul of those sturdy folk living on the vast grassland of the Tibetan Northern plains, where temperatures drop well below freezing, or making comfortable the inhabitants of the fertile river valleys of the south and east.
It seems that weaving both for carpet and clothing evolved indigenously out of the need of protection from the harsh environment. The early nomadic hunting tribes could not have survived without a rudimentary method of weaving textiles for making garments and tents. This explains the unique weaving technique found on the Plateau. Those ancient techniques evolved over the centuries and were also influenced by neighboring cultures. Until only a few years ago, it was very common to see traditional looms that could be easily assembled on the summer pasture with which women would weave the panels for black tents using the coarse hair of the yaks, a tradition that had been carried forward for over 1,300 years.
By the mid-seventh century, Tibet had mastered the skill of producing a finely woven textile used for their garments called nambu . The Tibetan traditional full-length over-garment known as chuba, well-suited for the extremely frigid Tibetan winters, is typically made of nambu and sometimes adorned with silk brocade.
Nowadays those beautiful sturdy tents and traditional textiles are harder to find; the tents in many areas have been substituted by cheaper plastic ones, and synthetic textiles are now common. The traditions of both weaving and hand spinning have almost disappeared.
As we mention at the beginning, our dream is to create a textile workshop in a particularly rural area of the Tibetan Plateau, starting off with a small group of local women, and slowly expanding the operation to include a larger community . We have already selected the target area and identified a local partner with whom we can work closely. While the textile traditions in this area have been lost, women still spin and weave with rudimentary tools that produce a very basic fabric.
Erthi Village is a small traditional village on the Tibetan plateau. The land is very arid and not suitable for any agricultural activity. Only Tibetan sheep and a few yaks can survive on its poor pastureland. The income of the families here is very low—lower than average—and a lot of the young people have left looking for better opportunities elsewhere.
Our aim is to create a small-scale textile chain from animal breeding to fiber collection, spinning, weaving and natural dyeing, all on the Tibetan Plateau, creating a "Made By Tibetans" label that will produce small products, textiles, garments and handspun yarn whose profit will benefit directly all the families involved as well as the shepherd in this areas from whom the wool will be purchased.
Dokarpo’ རྡོ་དཀར་པོ། is the name selected for our textile lab by the local community of Erthi Village. It means white peak, the snowy mountain that for Tibetans represents a good omen for the future. Traditionally, Tibetans offer guests a khatak, a white scarf, which symbolizes pure intention, and a wish for good fortune. In the same spirit, so too, do we initiate Dokarpo, imbued with the same intent for good and auspiciousness as the steadfast and ancient snow mountains.
Although the process toward reaching this dream has been long and slowed down by the pandemic, we have already made a few first steps. Thanks to the generosity of British knitwear designer Marie Wallin, we raised sufficient funds to buy two looms and identified a master weaver in central Tibet who could travel to this area to run an initial series of workshops.
The first chapter of our story will be represented by a small group of women from Erthi who will be trained by the very experienced weaver on the new looms in a traditional courtyard house in Erthi where we can run the workshops. The funds will be used to set up the workshop, purchase wool and equipment needed, to cover all the costs associated with the weaving and spinning training; as well as local and international travel costs as we will follow the progress step by step; and, hiring a local project manager who will oversee the daily activities. If we manage to raise more than the original ask, we will also research traditional dyeing methods and do a trial run for a local natural dye workshop.
This project has been a dream that is slowly but surely coming to fruition. This endeavor is not something we can do entirely on our own, and we would love to build a strong community of support around these women. We are motivated to put all the passion and energy into Dokarpo as we do with everything else we do, and are also committed to holding ourselves accountable and transparent at every step, values we have inherited from our experience in the non-profit world.
But we need your help. It’s now the time to fulfill that dream and you can be part of it.
We invite you to donate any amount you feel comfortable with. If you are not able to donate or even if you are, please help us spread the word about this campaign by sending a link to your friends, share in on your social media.
You can also follow us on Instagram @myakbeyondborders and read more about us at www.myak.it
You have our heartfelt thank you and appreciation.
Paola and Andrea
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