Orochen Forest Animals forms part of the story of a journey exploring China. It began in September 2010, when Hayley Ho left London to travel around China in search of traditional crafts. She met some talented craftspeople of different ethnic minority groups, and found herself increasingly drawn towards the villages and towns on the borders of China. She was fascinated by their cultures and how modernisation had made such a sudden and dramatic impact on their lives.
She 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 they bonded with Hayley over a mutual respect for nature. She 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.
Hayley did return in summer, 2 years later, and with fellow designer Thomas Guest. While working together on designing aircraft interiors, she told him about the Orochen, and they started to discuss the potential of design to communicate their knowledge to a wider audience. These conversations led them to meet Earthpulse and the Orochen Foundation in Hong Kong, who introduced them to their friends in Heilongjiang and Inner Mongolia. Looked after by an Orochen granny, they 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 they stayed with the Orochen, Hayley and Thomas designed these wooden toy blocks to inspire children (and adults), and to raise awareness about little known ethnic groups in China.