Tibetan tailor sews villagers a new future, free of poverty

Handmade Tibetan costumes involve meticulous and elaborate sewing and embroidering.

Handmade Tibetan costumes involve meticulous and elaborate sewing and embroidering.

HANDMADE Tibetan costumes are increasingly fashionable, but for one Chinese village, they are leading them out of poverty.

Learning from his father, Tenzin Chogyo, 27, became a tailor in a cooperative in Matharmar Village, Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Sichuan Province.

The cooperative shareholders include 25 poor village households who survive on an annual income of less than 2,000 yuan (US$290) a person.

As the main garment store for more than 3,000 residents in Honglong Township, the cooperative has an ambitious plan to help the village cast off poverty this year.

“I know the bitterness of poverty. This cooperative provides an opportunity for poor people living in harsh conditions to increase their income,” says Tenzin.

Aged 20, he began to learn the crafts from his father, who opened a garment store in nearby Litang county and earned money making hand-stitched Tibetan clothes. Measuring, cutting, sewing and embroidering all test a tailor’s technique. “An experienced tailor usually spends a week on a handmade robe. Any mistake will ruin the whole project,” he says.

Tenzin did not have a smooth start, destroying three pieces of cloth in one day. But his father is a good teacher.

“My father was not angry. He adjusted the badly cut pieces into clothes for Tibetan children and sold them all,” he says.

Tenzin says he was luckier than other rural Tibetan youth but his good luck was used up when his father was diagnosed with tuberculosis and needed treatment for several months.

They shut their store Tenzin drove trucks for a gold mine, worked in construction and dug worm grass in the mountains to pay the medical bills.

Although he had the skills, he did not have the money to set up a new shop. Things changed in April last year when a local cadre named Wang Yongshun came to Tenzin’s home and asked him to be a tailor in a cooperative the government was investing in.

The Chinese government has vowed to eradicate poverty by 2020. As of late February, there were 831 impoverished county-level regions across China.

Local governments have been looking for and creating various ways to meet their targets. According a Yajiang County plan, Matharmar Village will be pulled out of poverty this year.

Obtaining a poverty relief fund of 160,000 yuan, Wang thought hard about what industries should be developed in the village, a place with high altitude and bad weather.

Villagers suggest Wang set up a tailor’s shop in Honglong Township, around 100 kilometers away from Yajiang County and 35 kilometers from Litang County. Residents had to trek over mountains to buy Tibetan clothes in Litang.

“It can cover a potential market of thousands of customers,” Wang says.

Supported by the local government, Tenzin and his wife received one week’s training in a garment company in Mianzhu City, learning how to use a sewing machine.

They opened the cooperative last September. It now earns 6,000-8,000 yuan a month and offers villagers a better life.

“We will share bonuses with them. The specific plan is still in the pipeline,” says Tenzin, who also intends to re-train herdsmen.

Matharmar Village exhibits its wares on the roadside of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway. People can stop and enjoy the scenery, look at the clothes and visit the cooperative to buy. Tibetan clothing changed with the economic boom and as the region has had closer contact with the rest of the world.

“I plan to make fashionable clothes with Tibetan characteristics to attract more young people to join us,” Tenzin says.

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