Women receive dress-making training in Pingdingshan Community of Urumqi (FENG JIANWEI)
When Saliye Hobay, a Kazak ethnic woman born in Altay Prefecture in the north of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, was laid off in 2002 after the clothing factory for which she had worked for six years went bankrupt, she fell into momentary depression. But her optimism gave her renewed confidence to start afresh and only three years later, she launched her own business Xinjiang Sallyking Dress Co. Ltd..
At the beginning, Saliye had to face the fact that more than 90 percent of local dress enterprises were owned by people from other provinces and regions. In terms of dress exports, the turnover from locally-owned enterprises made up less than 1 percent.
Having resolved to start her own dress company, Saliye visited China's major fashion cities, including Shishi of Fujian Province and Shenzhen and Humen of Guangdong Province. The trips were a revelation to her. Measuring 200-square-km in area, Shishi has more than 3,000 dress enterprises, generating an annual production value of more than 40 billion yuan ($6.26 billion) per year. By marked contrast, the 1.6-million-square-km Xinjiang produced only 10 billon yuan (1.57 billion) from its dressmaking industry last year.
Most people put blame on Xinjiang's lack of advanced equipment and talent, but Saliye doesn't think this is the case. "For enterprises in Xinjiang, we must have our own characteristics based on the locality," she said.
As a Kazak woman, she took ethnic characteristic as her biggest advantage and cast her eye toward high-end haute couture. "My target market is ethnic costume. I know what people of minority ethnic groups in Xinjiang like."
After 10 years' development, her company realized a sales volume of more than 20 million yuan ($3.13 million) last year and her brand Sallyking became a renowned brand in Xinjiang, especially among the region's Kazak ethnic group.
Colleagues and sisters both
Labor shortages have always been a thorn in Saliye's side. In Shayibake District where Sallyking was formerly located, one of Urumqi's biggest districts and home to 38 ethnic groups including Han, Uygur, Hui and Kazak, the problem of unemployment among women is particularly prevalent. Shayibake's Pingdingshan Community has only 11,000 residents, 71 percent of which are of the Uygur ethnic group and come from southern Xinjiang. Even though most of Saliye's female Uygur neighbors are jobless, but getting them to work is never an easy task.
Traditionally, Uygur women do not work. Even though some girls are employed for a time, most quit after getting married.
According to official statistics released by the autonomous region, last year women represented 41.5 percent of the total employed labor force in Xinjiang, whereas the national average was 46 percent.
Saliye decided to try to change this state of affairs. She persuaded a few Uygur women to join her factory, and after they earned money, word of mouth spread and more women decided to join in. Despite of her great efforts, she still does not succeed all the time. "Some families still does not support women in having a job. We have to give up although the women in question may want the job desperately," Saliye said.
"But we never forced anyone."
Saliye Hobay (COURTESY OF SALIYE HOBAY)
Since its founding in 2005, Saliye's company has employed more than 100 female workers, 99 percent of which are Uygur women.
Saliye also began to offer free training for women in her community in 2014. Up until now, more than 100 women have received training and some became her employers.
"Work means a lot for women. After getting out of the house and getting to know more people, they often became more cheerful and broad-minded," said Saliye.
Selime Seyit, a Uygur mother of three children, is now an executive manager in Saliye's enterprise. Two years ago, she came to the dress company as a worker. "I seldom left the house in the past. I feel myself more confident than before. I like the change," she said.
"Women need jobs to realize our own value and enjoy a better life," she said. Now Selime earns more than 4,000 yuan ($626) per month, the same as her husband and much higher than the region's average monthly wage of 1,846 yuan ($289).
In addition to fame and fortune, the great joy of Saliye derives from her business is being able to help more women. According to Saliye, all of her workers are clever and skillful, and they deserve a better life.
She has decided to expand her business to south Xinjiang, where Uygur people constitute more than 75 percent of the local population and the employment rate among women is lower than the region's average.
"My greatest joy is my colleague's smile. The saddest moment is an employee leaving my company. They are just like my family," Saliye said.
(Reporting from Xinjiang)