Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Shanghai | turnSTYLE: Sarah Kong, Shokay

turn·stile –noun1. a structure of four horizontally revolving arms pivoted atop a post and set in a gateway or opening in a fence to allow the controlled passage of people.

turn·STYLE - noun1. Justina's snapshot profiles of cool people in Shanghai who are creating and defining China style.

Sometimes when the stars and fate align, the right person appears when you need them. Such was the case with Sarah Kung, marketing director for Shokay, the world's only purveyor of an exclusive line of yak-down goods. You'll see why I need to learn all about yaks and weaving in an upcoming novel. Stay tuned!

Still, I hear the skepticism in your reading mind: yak down...uh-huh. Let me assure you that these knitted and felted goods were beautiful. Sumptuously soft. And gorgeously designed.

Started by two Harvard postdocs, Shokay is a fine example of social entrepreneurship. These women, along with Sarah, are helping thousands of Tibetan yak herders earn a new living by harvesting yak down and creating high-end luxury products.

And some of them are just plain cute, like these...

knitted goods like these replicas of a dish my mom used to make: batsang! Rice stuffed with meat, peanuts, salty eggs--all wrapped in bamboo leaves and shaped into a pyramid.

Sarah herself is an interesting story. She's a former editor for Elle in Asia who happened to hear about the two founders of Shokay. So impressed with their mission to help these Tibetan herders, Sarah talked herself into a job. She still freelances as a magazine writer. Her latest article featuring one of the sophisticated women who danced in halls during Shanghai's heyday in the 1930s. After scouring the Old Town to find a woman who lived in that era and was still alive in this one, Sarah found a perfect person to profile. It took her several weeks to gain the woman's trust and ease out the story. But she did. That's enough for me to want to learn how to read Chinese characters so I can study her article. (Or maybe I'll just find a translater.)

An hour later, I got the information I needed to write about yaks. And weaving. Curious?! Me, too! I can't wait to use this good stuff in my novel.

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