The glory that an embroidered Pashmina enjoyed in the past wasn't at all overhyped. It was worth even more. After all, what is not to love. Producing the raw wool for Pashmina takes the Ladakhi goat to tolerate a temperature of -50 degrees before it grows Pashm. Next, it takes professionals and herders together to gently comb the same wool off the goat's body. This raw wool reaches Kashmir and is sorted by womenfolk which takes careful attention to every single thread which is below 16 microns in diameter. This finest of the fine threads is handspun over a charkha (Yinder) by women with their bare hands. These threads are barely visible to a common man who doesn't know the art. Later the threads are handed over to weavers, who weave the threads into the fabric over a handloom, which is again mostly manual with a little help from the machine. The shawl, stole, or scarf thus obtained is sent for embroidery, where the embroidery artisan casts a magical spell over the shawl. With such finesse and intricacy, he embellishes the airy light and gentle shawl with traditional embroidery patterns. Embroidering a Pashmina needs full attention, great skill and years of experience to master One such embroidery artisan is Gulam Azeem Sheikh. Sheikh was studying in class 10th when his parents passed away in an accident while coming back from Jammu, where they went for an exhibition. Sheikh's father was an embroidery artisan himself and he had taken some of his masterpieces to show in an exhibition where people from Europe were expected to come. But on the way back, their bus collided with another and caused a heavy loss of lives. Sheikh was left with a little amount of savings and 3 sisters to take care of. Luckily Sheikh had learnt embroidery from his father and used to help him whenever his father would not be well. He knew much more than the basics and was gifted with a sense of creativity. He always argued with his father when he saw the same motifs over shawls "Abba, let's embroider it in another way, another pattern" he used to ask his dad who would laugh at how little Sheikh didn't understand the speciality of traditional motifs. Sheikh would then draw those motifs on a paper with ink and save it in a steel trunk. After his father's death, Sheikh had to leave studies, and continue embroidering shawls, which he acquired from the owners of power looms. "Machine-made shawls and handmade shawls are two different things", Sheikh sorrowfully explained to us. "Handmade has a totally different feel". The owner of a power loom had employed Sheikh and his friends who worked on meagre income in a matchbox-sized room. They hand-embroidered shawls and scarves and the owner paid them at the completion of a shawl, an amount, which when distributed between the employees wouldn't be enough for a month even.
Sheikh and Pashmina.com
On our first visit to Kashmir, we saw Sheikh purchasing thread from a local supplier. We asked him the address of another artisan, who had the same story. But being the smart young man, that he had been famous for since childhood, he asked us why we were looking for a Pashmina artisan, and we sat in a garden nearby to discuss with him our business model. When Sheikh narrated his story, we welcomed him into Pashmina.com and sent him to seek permission from the owner of his factory. After getting the permission, Sheikh was so overwhelmed that he left the purchased threads in the local park and forgot to hand it over to the factory owner. Today Sheikh and Pashmina.com work together and it has been 4 years since that afternoon. Shiekh gets monthly wages and not product-wise wages. He feels that he is finally getting what he deserved. He has even shown us his childhood sketches which we introduced in our modern design Pashminas.