Mukhtar Ahmed Beigh
Once upon a time the acquisition of Pashmina was one of the most difficult and laborious process which consumed a huge amount of time. Raw wool would be first acquired by laborers from Ladakh. Then this raw wool would be sold to the womenfolk of the valley who would clean it properly, sort it and later spin it over Charkha (Yinder). This spun wool would be handed over to weavers who would mount the spun yarn onto a wooden hand loom and weave for days together. This would complete a plain Pashmina shawl which would not be handed over to embroidery artisans if needed. The total process of making a complete Pashmina shawl would take months, and if it would be an embroidery shawl, then years would pass. Hence the final complete product would be a masterpiece, fairly expensive and least available. To even see a pure Pashmina shawl, one had to travel all the way to Kashmir. It was this magnificence and splendour associate with Pashmina which made it the favorite amongst kings, queen and other nobles. But times have changed for the industry. In the 21st century, Pashmina has become an everyday accessory. It is available everywhere in bulk. The charm of being unique and minimally available has been lost. A shop which sells wool and angora stoles, will have Pashmina too. We never settled with this fact and hence went to the valley to find out the reason. And what we found out was shameful. In the early 2000, some rich and profit-centric traders introduced the power looms into the craft. As such a shawl which hand artisans would prepare in 4-5 days now would take 20 minutes to complete. How was it possible that a fabric so gentle and fragile would bear the strain of machine? Adulteration! Pashmina would be mixed with stronger threads like silk, nylon or regular sheep wool to pass it through machines and this fake Pashmina would be sold as pure Pashmina in the markets. As such, increasing demand was easily catered and the shawls were priced low, so the customers would be fooled. However the customers would realise that the shawl is fake when it would be withered within 2-3 years. The actual life of a pure Pashmina is more than 30 years. The main community which had to bear the brunt of this illegal activity were hand artisans. Mukhtar Ahmed Beigh, a 52 year old weaver a living a life full of hardships and it is difficult for him to survive his family with the 1000 rupees he gets every month. A family of 6 cant be run on such a meager amount. "Machine owners have ruined us. They have ruined the industry as well. There will be a time when handmade Pashmina will decline and the world will be left with these cheap and fake shawl."
Mukhtar and Pashmina.com
With no supply chain, no middlemen and only handmade shawls to deal with, Pashmina.com seemed quite an ethical platform to Mukhtar. The very first request Mukhtar made was for us to encourage and educate customers about the harms of machine and power loom. "Tell the world that Pashmina handmade is the original Pashmina. Machine copies are fake and cheap. Educate customers about Pashmina through media. Please ask them to sustain the authentic traditional craft. Otherwise there will be a time when there will be no Pashmina, just stories of it", he warned.