Handmade Tibetan costume is increasingly fashionable, but for one Chinese village it is showing the way out of poverty.
Learning the skills 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 (around 290 U.S. dollars) per capita.
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 in 2017.
“I know the bitterness of poverty. This cooperative provides an opportunity for poor people living in harsh conditions to increase their income,” said Tenzin Chogyo.
Aged 20, he began to learn the craftsmanship 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 said.
He 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 said.
Tenzin Chogyo said he was luckier than other rural Tibetan youth but his good luck was used up when his father was diagnosed with tuberculosis and he needed treatment for several months.
They shut down their garment store, and in order to pay his father's medical bills, Tenzin Chogyo drove trucks for a gold mine, worked in construction and dug worm grass in the mountains.
Although he had the skills, he did not have the money to set up a new tailor's shop. Things changed in April 2016 when a local cadre named Wang Yongshun came to Tenzin Chogyo's home and asked him to be a tailor in a cooperative invested in by the government.
The Chinese government has vowed to eradicate poverty by 2020. As of late February, there were 831 impoverished county-level regions across China, where poverty is expected to be eliminated in the next four years.
Local governments have been looking for and creating various ways to fulfill their shared goals. 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 said.
Supported by the local government, Tenzin Chogyo and his wife received one-week training in a garment company in Mianzhu city, learning how to use a sewing machine.
They opened a cooperative selling Tibetan clothes last September, which now earns between 6,000 yuan and 8,000 yuan each month and provides an opportunity for poor villagers to live a better life.
“We will share out bonuses with them. The specific revenue-sharing plan is still in the pipeline,” said Tenzin Chogyo, who also intends to train poor herdsmen as tailors.
Meanwhile, Matharmar village exhibits its wares on a roadside of the Sichuan-Tibet Highway. People can stop and enjoy the beautiful scenery, look at the clothes and visit the cooperative to buy Tibetan costume as a souvenir.
Tibetan clothing has 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,” he said.