by Marj Casal

Goodstein uses technology’s double-edged sword to revive a Chinese tradition it was slowly killing.

Like the black rhino, the blue whale, and the orangutan, ethnic crafts from around the world are being threatened to extinction. But instead of humans, technology is their greatest predator.

In China, the 1,300-year-old practice of traditional embroidery by the Yi minority mothers in Yunnan is one such craft that is being threatened by modernization. The faster and more efficient needles of embroidery machines are starting to replace the wrinkled hands of the mothers.

With these machines taking over, the mothers are losing their only source of income and are forced to leave their homes and the tradition behind to find a job that would feed their families’ mouths.

To help them keep their jobs, and consequently, keep the tradition alive, Tencent, China’s largest Internet service portal and the China Woman’s Development Fund worked with independent agency network Goodstein to raise funds for the mothers using Tencent’s charity platform.

Given such a brief, any agency would easily turn to a tearjerker ad which has been proven time and again to be the fastest way to a donor’s heart. But Goodstein had something different in mind–for the mums to counterattack.

Instead of rubbing salt into the wound, and exploiting the unfortunate situation of the Yi minority mothers and their craft, the agency thought of making the art that is as old as time, relevant again to the present generation.

To do this, Goodstein paired the mothers with the most unlikely group for a session of embroidery–Beijing’s local metal heavy band Yaksa which in return, taught them how to rock and roll.

“If their craft dies, a part of our culture dies with it,” said Hu Song, Yaksa’s Lead Singer, “That’s why we’ve decided to join the fight.”

The adorable videos of the mums rocking it out with Yaksa and the heavy metal band punching needles into canvasses were rolled out across social media platforms. Their handmade products were also sold through a website.

Shanghai local tattoo artist Wu Qi, who sees the mums’ craft as a form of handiwork not too different from what he does, designed t-shirts with the mothers’ handmaid embroidery. “We’ve created new patterns for the mums. Something that links their original culture with a modern lifestyle,” shared tattoo artist Wu Qi. “Our craft is similar, really. Mums use needles for embroidery, like me.” These, too, were sold in the website.

Since the campaign rolled out in September 2015, more than 1.2 million RMB or more than PhP 8 million has been raised.

For the second wave of the campaign, Goodstein is inviting fashion labels and designers to join the cause. The agency is yet to find one but at least for now, the Yi minority mothers and the art of traditional embroidery live another day.

This article was first published in the November-December 2015 issue of adobo magazine.