Mohammed Ashraf Baba
Kashmir's fabled Pashmina shawls could be history in some time. All thanks to the introduction of power looms whose advent became a major thread to the craft itself as well as the artisans' livelihoods, whose skill was replaced by the machine. The introduction of power looms is considered as a second blow to Kashmiri weavers after the trade of Shahtoos shawls was banned in 2000. Around 95 per cent of Pashmina is now processed through power looms because these looms offer a higher production and profit margin. The iron is that power looms aren't even registered for making Pashmina but influential and rich traders have managed to run them illegally. As such, the art of making pure Pashmina with had has lost it value because machine made shawls are not 100% pure Pashmina. it is believed that to bear the strain of mechanical weaving, nylon or other stronger threads like angora wool have to be mixed with Pashmina, as a result of which the shawl loose its purity and the craft overall loses its reputation of being vintage. But since, the high production meets demands, it has led to a sharp fall in handmade products, leaving the artisans gullible to poverty who face dearth of even the basic needs. One such artisan is Mohammed Ashraf Baba. Ashraf was the most famed artisan back in the early 1990's. Customers from the west knew him by name, because they had seen him working over a wooden hand loom in utmost precision. They would look for Ashraf on their visits to Kashmir, and ask him to present his fresh pieces. Customers would pay him any price he wanted! But power looms changed everything. "A weaver acquires 10 grams of raw Pashmina for Rs 120 and for the next tiring three days, weaves it into a shawl or stole, only to earn Rs 100 off it, making it an average of Rs 33 per day. This rate has been the same since the last 20 years. Tell us, how do we survive?", says Ashraf, who has worked on the loom for more than 20 years now. "Our women also used to spin Pashmina and take care of their families with the money earned with it, but after more than 20 years of hardwork, if all they get it Rs 150 for a month, how will they survive. Women and men have lost their eye sights, developed bad knees and backaches working for long hours, but if our conditions do not change, if middlemen of the supply chain eat up all the profits, how will we live. How will this art, which is 600 years old, remain alive?", asks a hopeless Ashraf in a more desperate manner.
Ashraf and Pashmina.com
There was no one a surprised as Ashraf was when we made him understand how Pashmina.com works. No middlemen, no supply chains and no machines. Pashmina.com works on an ethical basis which pays artisans their dues monthly or as pre-decided with them and well deserved by them. Artisans no more have to wait for months together for their payments which they usually used to get in installments. Ashraf is content with us and we are honored to work with such an experienced and skilled artist.
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