JINAN, Feb. 4 (Xinhua) -- It has been a busy week for the employees of an artistic umbrella factory in east China's Shandong Province since they returned to work from the Spring Festival holiday on Jan. 28.
An order of 6,000 lace umbrellas, placed by a Thai company, is scheduled to be shipped in a few days, said Tang Binjie, head of the factory in Dawenkou Township in Tai'an City.
Factory employees were already swamped with work in the two months leading up to the Spring Festival, which fell on Jan. 22, Tang added.
Tang, 45, is the fourth-generation inheritor of the Dawenkou lace craft, a municipal-level intangible cultural heritage. Dawenkou laceworks are decorative openworks knitted and woven with a variety of fabrics, including cotton, linen and silk threads. The craft has a history of more than 2,000 years.
Now a renowned lace umbrella artisan, Tang, originally from a village in Dawenkou, learned the craft from his father as a child.
Some years ago, he decided to return to his hometown to start a business, with the goal of passing down and developing the lace craft.
In the beginning, he visited rural households in surrounding towns and villages every day to recruit skilled embroiderers. He managed to foster partnerships by paying embroiderers in advance for their work.
Today, the Dawenkou lace craft is used to make a wide range of products. Tang's factory delivers fabrics to embroiderers' homes and later collects their works for sale.
"I can get the job done at home and make money without leaving the house," said Hou Chunling, a 57-year-old embroiderer from Dawenkou's Shendong village. Hou makes more than 15,000 yuan (about 2,226 U.S. dollars) every year by making lace umbrellas.
In recent years, Tang has integrated modern design with traditional craft to upgrade the product line, which now includes lace umbrellas and lace fans.
He has also taken advantage of e-commerce platforms to break into the international market, establishing stable business relationships with clients in more than 10 countries, with an average annual order volume of more than 500,000 pieces.
"The demand for our umbrellas now exceeds supply. We are booked solid with orders until June this year," Tang said.
With the support of the township government, Tang has set up a studio to teach the lace craft to female residents who cannot leave Dawenkou to seek employment elsewhere or are temporarily unemployed. The studio has helped more than 300 people find a job close to home.
"In the new year, we will intensify training of embroiderers, continue to expand our business internationally, and pursue innovations in product design," Tang said.
"We shall aim to continue to inject vitality into the traditional lace craft and help more villagers increase their income," he added. ■