What the world sees of Pashmina is a luxurious fabric being made in the scenic paradisaical valley of Kashmir. Beautiful wrap accessories are handmade on classic hand looms and hand embroidered by artisans and the resultant wrap shawl, or scarf is swoon worthy. This is all that a customer would know about Pashmina and Kashmir. But the actual picture is somewhat different and its not as happy as it looks. The Pashmina industry is declining, artisans are switching to other jobs, the artisans who remain are paid meagre wages and that too in installments, and the future generation is avoiding do be associated with this craft as much as they can. In addition to this, dishonest retailers are selling machine made or fake Pashmina shawls as pure handmade pieces and accruing profits from uninformed customers. We met Feroz Ahmed, whose three generations in the past have weaving Pashmina, and he gave us the actual picture of this declining industry which once flourished exceedingly all over the world. “It was all pleasant and happy a few decades back,” said Feroz, sitting in a 10*10 room, dimly lit. "The demand for Pashmina shawls was far more than the supply, and we made sufficient profits which were more than enough for us to support our families. Whe I started Pashmina work back in September 1989, the industry was in a way better condition than it is now. We used to acquire raw wool from Ladakh, give it to the women of our households who cleaned and spun it, and weave those yarns ourselves into shawls, stoles, scarves, and even handkerchiefs. These would again get embroidered by members of our family and a complete product would leave a household for the market. We were satisfied, happy and above all content by the wages, and the work itself, even though it was tiring", says Feroz. He continues "But today the scenario is different or should I say it is traumatic for us. Not is the yarn spun by women, not do we get to weave it. Everything is owned by machine owners. The power loom has devastated this industry. Even if someone deals with handmade shawls, he pays us minimum wages, which are not even enough for an individual, let alone for a family". The introduction of power looms has indeed proven detrimental to hand artisans whose livelihoods have been poorly affected. Artisans earn Rs 100 a day which all goes into buying threads, or other raw material for the Pashmina itself. They cant save a penny.
Feroz and Pashmina.com
Pashmina.com has a different working model. We deal with handmade shawls made by artisans themselves and get them hand embroidered too. Artisans get either a monhtly payment, or an advance payment or as is decided with them before the start of work. And since there are middlemen in the supply chain, artisans get satisfactory wages which helps them manage their daily affairs. Feroz is one of our weavers whose honesty and skill has always surprise us. We wish to work with Feroz as much as he wants to continue with us.