A few years ago, I discovered Kimberly, a white American woman married to a Tibetan man in Qinghai, and later shared her story in the post Love on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau – Konchok and Kimberly.
More recently, the couple has built up a business selling blankets in a rainbow of brilliant hues — and is gaining a following for the beauty and quality of their Tibetan-style products.
How did it all come about? Kimberly has graciously written a guest post sharing the story behind Shema-lep Tibetan Style Blankets.
As a foreigner living in a minority area in China, I have had the opportunity to enjoy traditional handicrafts around every corner. I’ve also had the chance to spend time with and observe other foreign visitors to the area. One thing we all seem to have in common is an admiration for traditional Tibetan clothing.
Having married into a Tibetan family has also taught me a lot over the years. I’ve been able to get to know people in my husband’s hometown and the surrounding area, see how their lives are, and watch the rapid changes happening there.
The idea for our Tibetan-style blankets came to me after realizing a few different things.
Even though the traditional robes Tibetans wear daily or for special occasions are beautiful and readily available for purchase, they do not make very good souvenirs or gifts for visitors. This is because there aren’t many opportunities to wear them once visitors go back home. I wanted to provide something similar to these robes that everyone can use, display and enjoy.
I have learned a bit about Tibetan tailors in my husband’s hometown area. Most are elderly; young people are not learning the trade. The culture has changed in recent years due to shifts in the economy and education. Now, instead of patching up old robes or asking tailors to make new ones, people buy new premade robes in shops. This means less and less work for local tailors.
By employing seasoned village tailors to make blankets in the style of their Tibetan robes, we can improve their incomes while providing useful and cultural home furnishings. It is our hope that our success will help Tibetans realize the beauty and value of their traditional crafts, and inspire an interest in preserving them for future generations.
At the moment, our main tailor Tsoko is working on the majority of our blanket orders. At the same time she is providing for her 80-year-old mother and middle school-aged son. As a single parent and sole caretaker of her mother, she is the only earner in her family. She has been working odd jobs to make ends meet. We are happy to be able to provide her with a more regular income and to reduce the strain on her family’s finances.
Because our blankets are so beautifully colorful, like butterflies, we chose to name our business Shema-lep, the word for “butterfly” in the Amdo Tibetan language.
Shema-lep Tibetan Style Blankets lets customers choose from a variety of colors, materials and sizes. All of the materials available are the same materials Tibetans use to make their modern-day robes. Now real sheep and lambskin blankets are available as well. We are pleased to be able to provide something that is both authentically Tibetan and beautifully useful in any home. We are looking forward to growing and helping more tailors in the future. We enjoy sharing Tibetan culture through textiles and stories. Thank you for reading our story.
A huge thank you to Kimberly for sharing this story! If you’d like to learn more or make a purchase, you can connect with Shema-lep Tibetan Style Blankets through WeChat (by scanning the QR code in the photo below) or through Facebook and Instagram.