Technology transforms traditional carpet making
Yang Yongliang at his workshop in Xining, Qinghai province. ZHANG LONG/XINHUA
XINING — Holding a machine-woven woolen Tibetan carpet, carpet makers began trimming its surface to make its pattern three-dimensional, a vivid panorama of cows and sheep grazing and water birds flying beside a lake.
Production is in full swing at the Shengyuan carpet group in the Xining economic and technological development zone in Xining, capital of Qinghai province.
"Sales revenue in January surged by 27 percent year-on-year, and orders were booked through the end of last month," said Xue Ting, chairperson of one of the largest producers of Tibetan carpets in China.
Carpets were once a necessity for plateau nomads as a means of protection against the cold, and the technique of weaving them has been passed down on the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau for around 1,000 years. The fine yak and sheep wool and the delicate patterns have made them popular with both overseas and domestic buyers.
Now with new machines and sales channels, Tibetan carpet producers are in the middle of a robust comeback after the three-year epidemic.
Xue said high-end hotels and cruise ships were previously their main clients, but business was badly affected by the epidemic.
"Last year, we made only 73 million yuan ($10.56 million) in revenues, nearly 30 percent less than in 2019, before the epidemic struck," she said.
To lower production costs, the company introduced machinery to weave flat carpets before they are manually trimmed.
"The new approach has lowered costs from 2,000 yuan per square meter to 200 yuan," said Che Guolong, the company's design director, adding that intelligent dyeing equipment was also introduced, which now gives customers more than 10,000 colors and a variety of patterns to choose from, compared to just 30 colors in the past.
By developing online sales, the company has expanded its target customers from businesses to households by offering them customized products.
It has also worked with research teams at universities to develop antibacterial and flame-retardant carpets specifically for households.
"The market is constantly changing, forcing us to keep exploring," Xue said.
Like Shengyuan, other carpet producers in the development zone are upgrading their catalog to meet market demands, according to Yu Baoshan, executive deputy director of the development zone, who added that gross output in the zone is projected to exceed 1 billion yuan by the end of 2025.