PASHMINA: A SPLENDID TRADITION, BASTARDISED AND MISREPRESENTED
The richness of this gorgeous soft and warm wardrobe accessory has been under-appreciated in recent years. The market displays huge disparities in price and quality because shawls made with viscose silk or sheep wool are marketed as Pashmina by unscrupulous companies. The irony is that all sorts of these products have gone under name PASHMINA whilst bearing little resemblance to the true Kashmiri Pashmina shawls.
The unique aspect of Kashmiri Pashmina shawl industry is that they are not mere pieces of decorative handicraft items like other handicrafts produced all over the globe. Artisans of pashmina shawls blend matchless artistic skills cum excellence with a great deal of practical functionality that makes it immensely unique. However the irony is that this timeless fabric (Object) weaved by humble hands from Kashmir has been completely bastardised, misunderstood and misrepresented. This distinctive work requires years of training on weaving/dehairing/spinning etc. The cheap replicas/imitations and fake goods peddled by unscrupulous dealers might look exactly the real ones but have damaged both the artisans/producers and the consumers.
In this article, I aim to describe aspects of traditional, artisan led production and to explain what makes a real Pashmina so special.
PASHMINA AS “CASHMERE” APPRECIATED IN EUROPE
For years, it has been a common doubt among customers, buyers and other people who invest in this luxury wool that is there any difference between Pashmina and Cashmere. While searching online on google, on different websites you may come up with different theories. To know whether there’s any difference between the Cashmere and Pashmina, we’ve to go back in history. A good research of the fabric/Pashmina items will remove all the confusion and will give you an idea about the chronology. A quick historical detour for context, ‘Cashmere’ is the anglicized version of beautiful place called Kashmir, the region in Asia from which cashmere production originated. According to many experts in craft sector, Europeans visited the region beginning in the 18th Century and learned of this luxury wool. They returned home with Pashmina shawls as prized-gifts and instead of calling Pashmina wool by its name; decided instead to re-name it after the place it’s from: Kashmir. This in turn eventually became “Cashmere”. Over time, this name Cashmere gained more importance and became a fame name in the international market. It arrived then in Britain, France and employed by Victoria and empress Josephine – popularized it as symbol of exotic luxury and standing. It evolved into a popular culture of Europe, US as indicator of nobility and rank.
Another great reference book on the aspect of Pashmina history is by Monique Lévi-Strauss: “Cashmere: A French passion.” The beautiful and delicate fabric called cashmere shawl was first brought to European market by East India companies and Napoleon’s campaigns. Genuine cashmere shawls demand was high in Europe, but the imported cashmere shawls were rare, hence Europeans used other Fibers to produce imitation (Replicas) shawls. In the US market Cashmere was introduced in 1947, on a large high scale. Today world’s largest cashmere producer country is China, accounting for about 70% of world output; Mongolian cashmere production accounts for about 20%.
IS PASHMINA AND CASHMERE SAME
While searching about the right answer, I luckily came across an interview by Dr.Yasir Mir, Faculty at Craft Development Institute, Srinagar, P. hd in Pashmina Branding. In an interview with Shruti J.Mittal, project head Commitment to Kashmir (www.ctok.org.in), Mir said, “Pashmina is Cashmere but not all Cashmere is Kashmiri Pashmina.” He said that that Pashmina got standardised as Cashmere in the international market but the cheap replicas misrepresented the pure Pashmina. Now Pashmina from Kashmir has a G.I registration. It is registered as “KASHMIR PASHMINA” – it is registered under the geographical indications of goods Acts of India.
According to the Quality Manual for Kashmir Pashmina, the registration is an acknowledgement of the fact that a given handicraft is unique and is produced in a particular area, with traditional knowledge and skills, that are special to a region.
The KASHMIR PASHMINA G.I SPECIFICATIONS ARE:
- Made of 100% pashm Fibre obtained from the under fleece of Capra Hiracus having fineness upto 16 microns.
- A hand woven fabric by artisans from Jammu and Kashmir.
- Made using hand spun yarn.
PASHM – FIBRE FROM CAPRA HIRACUS
In 2019, A documentary film “Pashmina Road” Cashmere Himalayan goats , from Ladakh to Kashmir, by Errol Rainey and Isaac Wall for ZEZE Collective, is a meditative visual story that spans from Ladakh to Kashmir to chronicle the elaborate process from sourcing, to making of end pieces. An excerpt from an essay by Monisha Ahmad xplains pashmina source as:
In Ladakh during summer months changra goats (Capra Hiracus) are herded to lower altitudes where they can graze on pastures growing along the glacial rivers and streams. The nomads say that during the winter, the pashm (A Persian word meaning soft ) lies close to the goat’s skin, insulating it from the bitter cold; it is only when the winter is over that the Pashm rises above the goat’s skin and can easily be combed out. So In the spring (the moulting season), the goats naturally shed their undercoat (fleece), which regrows in winter. This undercoat is collected by combing the goat, apart from natural shedding of inner fleece. A male pashmina goat usually yields up to 300 grams of pashmina, a female pashmina goat about 200 to 250 grams.
(To be concluded)
- Dar Javed is a postgraduate in Craft Management design and Entrepreneurship and is working with COMMITMENT TO KASHMIR (Ctok) Delhi, that nurtures and support’s young Craftpreneurs from Kashmir. He can be reached at [email protected]