Xinjiang tailor stitches a new future for villagers

Gu Xumei is a household name in the county of Yining, northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, as the female tailor has trained more than 3,000 apprentices for free over the past 35 years, helping them increase their income and shake off poverty.

Learning stitching skills from her mother, Gu, 56, opened a 40-square-meter tailoring shop in 1985 after graduating from a local high school, in Tohuqyuzi Village, her hometown populated by many ethnic groups.

"We neighbors get along like a family. I even learned Uygur language from them," recalled Gu, who belongs to the Han ethnic group.

Her small shop soon became popular for the exquisite craftsmanship and reasonable prices, so much so that customers even from outside the village came to her.

Gu's booming business attracted several poor villagers who wanted to learn the craftsmanship and increase their income. It was then that her 35-year teaching journey took off.

Sabirem Ahmat, who lives in Xia Baxong Village, is one of them. Her family of five, which lived by farming, was once a registered poor household.

In 2016, Sabirem, then 36, began to learn from Gu. In months, she grew from a "layman" to a skilled tailor and Gu allowed her to work in her own shop.

"I can now earn about 3,000 yuan (around 440 U.S. dollars) per month. It's better that my workplace is in the village and not far from home, so I can also take care of my family," said the mother of three. The family, with an income of more than 50,000 yuan last year, has been lifted out of poverty.

Like Sabirem, Gu has trained more than 3,000 apprentices of different ethnic groups from across the region over the last few years. She also helps those who want to start a business open a tailoring shop. Gu has so far spent more than 100,000 yuan helping those in need.

In 2014, Gu invested more than 1 million yuan in setting up a garment manufacturing company in Tohuqyuzi Village. The company, combining tailor training, garment design, production, and sales has set up four factories in Tohuqyuzi and nearby villages.

With an annual production capacity of more than 150,000 pieces of clothing and 48,000 textile products, the company has provided jobs to more than 140 villagers.

"All the four factories were set up in villages, which can help women work and look after their family," she said.

After Xainminur Selimjan completed her training in Gu's factory two years ago, she opened a garment store in Urumqi, the regional capital. Because of COVID-19, her store had fewer orders this year.

"After Gu knew about my situation, she gave me some orders to survive the crisis," Xainminur Selimjan said. "It's really helpful."

"The epidemic has dealt a blow to us, especially hitting those small tailoring shops," said Gu. "My company is larger and still has orders, so I want to share them with my apprentices so that all of us can have a stable income."

"They are all hard-working. It's my wish to help them earn more money and live a better life," she said.