OROCHEN FOREST ANIMALS forms part of the story of a journey exploring China. It began in September 2010, when I left London to travel around China in search of traditional crafts. I met some talented craftspeople of different ethnic minority groups, and found myself increasingly drawn towards the villages and towns on the borders of China. I was fascinated by their cultures and how modernisation had made such a sudden and dramatic impact on their lives.
I first met the Orochen in the far north-eastern part of China when searching for birchbark boxes. Previously nomadic, they held great knowledge about their environment, and we bonded over a mutual respect for nature. I was taken on a road-trip to explore the mountains, and promised to return for a visit during the Summer months when the forest greenery reappeared from under the snow.
I did return in summer, 2 years later, and with fellow designer Thomas Guest. While working together on designing aircraft interiors, I told him about the Orochen, and we started to discuss the potential of design to communicate their knowledge to a wider audience. These conversations led us to meet Earthpulse and the Orochen Foundation in Hong Kong, who introduced us their friends in Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia. Looked after by Orochen granny, we learnt a lot about the Orochen way of life. A lifestyle which was, and still is, very reliant on their immediate natural environment and resources.
Inspired by the time we stayed with the Orochen, we designed these wooden toy blocks to inspire children (and adults), and to raise awareness about little known ethnic groups in China.
The story behind the toy
More about the original craft exploration trip at TEDx