Tibetan designer turns ancient street into runwa

Tashi is a common name around Lhasa's old town, but on Barkhor Street, Genqoi Tashi, 36, stands out from the crowd with his rattail hanging down the back his neck.

Tashi moved to Lhasa from Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province 10 years ago. He has had many jobs, from website editor to police officer. He also ran a bar and then a gallery.

Now, "Tashi the voguish" is a fashion designer. This winter, he held a show on Barkhor Street as pilgrims and tourists ambled around the Jokhang Temple, marveling at the fusion of fashion and Tibetan tradition.

Eight years ago, when a fashion program asked him to recommend a local designer but no one he knew qualified, Tashi found his calling. Creating a modern Tibetan fashion line was nothing but a remote dream, as few people in Tibet followed modern fashion in those days, preferring their traditional gowns.

But Tashi persisted, and after six months of preparation, he started up his own fashion brand Yeeom. His first designs were made of reworked second-hand clothes and sold at friends' shops. His first show was held on a balcony.

"If nothing was sold that day, I would starve the next day. And for the first year, I lived on borrowed money."

After years of cultivation, Tashi now has his own studio and two shops. His products are sold in metropolises like Beijing and Shanghai. He also has a presence in the international market.

Suits, jackets, skirts and T-shirts have become common on Lhasa's streets. But Tashi refuses to put a brand on any of his clothes. "People can tell it's my work by the look of it."

Tashi based his business on Barkhor Street, where he can see the Potala Palace through one window and the golden top of Jokhang Temple through the other.

As one of the most famous attractions of Lhasa, Barkhor is always full of pilgrims and tourists who are a source of inspiration for Tashi.

"Herdsmen have Tibetan robes, beads and red braids while outsiders bring their unique style from every corner of the world. They collide with each other, and something new bursts into my mind."

Lhasa now has several fashion shows for both Tibetan dress and modern clothes every year. Some of them have become regular events at traditional festival celebrations.

At the beginning of this year, Tashi finally got the chance to turn Barkhor Street into his runway. "Design my own dream and make it real. That's my idea of fashion," Tashi said.