Wuren shows a handmade "sunflower sister" doll at her workshop in Hulunbuir, North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, on Aug 3, 2020. [Photo by Zhao Shiyue/chinadaily.com.cn]
Wuren Yijirheyen, a 52-year-old shepherd in Hulunbuir, North China's Inner Mongolia autonomous region, never dreamed her small family workshop in fur and leather handicrafts would grow to a giant business with over 1 million yuan ($143,900) in annual sales and lift hundreds of impoverished women out of poverty.
In about 2005 when homestay tourism began booming in Wuren's hometown, a remote grassland village of nomad families, the ambitious woman started to make sunflower handwork – the Ewenki ethnic group's traditional ethnic decoration – for tourists.
As a nomadic minority group living in high altitude areas of northeastern China, the Ewenkis worship the sun, warmth and brightness, Wuren said. Sunflower motifs, commonly made of cowhide, sheepskin and sable fur and decorated with agate stones, are believed to bring blessings and good luck to local inhabitants.
The handmade sunflowers hanging on the wall at Wuren's workshop in Hulunbuir, Inner Mongolia autonomous region, on Aug 3, 2020. [Photo by Zhao Shiyue/chinadaily.com.cn]
With interest-free loans offered by the Hulunbuir government, Wuren established Sunflower Sisters Culture Development Co Ltd and moved her workshop to Ewenki's National Culture Pioneer Park, which was set up in 2016 especially for ethnic minority entrepreneurs and intangible cultural heritage inheritors.
"My business witnessed a significant step forward as the government introduced preferential policies to support the minority group's entrepreneurs," Wuren said. "I didn't have to pay rent for my workshop. In addition, the government also provided a 30,000 yuan subsidy to help tide us over with funding difficulties during the startup stages."
Shouldering the responsibility of inheriting the Ewenki's intangible cultural heritage, Wuren further explored ways to enrich the handicrafts' design and color schemes. She sought business partnerships with local craftsman and integrated traditional skin carving, crochet and paper-cuts into sunflower making.
After nearly a decade of development, Wuren's small business has already grown to a fairly complete production line, with ethnic handiwork items ranging from earrings, necklaces and headdresses to backpacks, gloves and refrigerator stickers, generating yearly sales of over 1 million yuan in 2019.