Swiss craftswoman creates brand to help rejuvenate Tibetan culture


On a secluded street in the Wuhou District of Chengdu, southwest China’s Sichuan Province, Swiss woman Katja’s Tibetan handicraft shop has opened for its seventh year. In a space of less than 10 square meters, two wooden shelves nearly two meters high are neatly placed with colorful bags and pillows printed with various Tibetan cultural patterns.

Katja, who came to China in 2005, is the founder of Tibetan handicraft brand “Dancing Yak”. Unlike ordinary handicrafts, Katja’s original products are made from yak hair. Katja said that the project was not launched to make a lot of money. “When traveling to Tibet, I met girls from poor families who had no job skills and no income. I really wanted to help them.” After establishing “Dancing Yak” in 2010, Katja trained 25 Tibetan girls for free, taught them sewing skills hand by hand, and inspired them to make designs. 

For Katja, Tibetan culture is familiar and friendly. Her father is a famous Swiss mountaineer who has climbed the Himalayas many times. It can be said that her father enlightened her to Tibetan culture. When she grew up, Katja came to China to visit the Tibetan-inhabited regions, and she lingered there not only because the natural scenery was comparable to Switzerland, but also because of the warmth and hospitality of the Tibetan people. “Once I went to Aba Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture. The people there welcomed me with open arms and generously let me taste the butter tea they had made.”

This is Katja’s 16th year in China. Compared with the rise, development, and inheritance of a culture, 16 years is extremely short, but it is also long enough in which to brew love for a culture. During her trips, Katja found that many Tibetan handicrafts were not very beautiful or portable, and the prices were not cheap, so she had an idea to create an original brand. Katja takes humble yak hair, combines elements of culture and practicality, and creates a variety of stylish, small, and affordable bags. “Traditional handicrafts would not print Tibetan patterns on a cosmetic bag,” Katja said.   

With the migration of handicrafts, the culture that spans thousands of years is also being rejuvenated. According to Katja, “Dancing Yak” handicrafts are gradually being recognized more and more on the market. At the same time, she has also tried to enter overseas markets. In 2018, Katja took her products to participate in exhibitions held in the United States. After receiving an award certificate issued by the World Crafts Council, orders from overseas came in droves. Today, this certificate hangs high in Katja’s shop.