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Empowering Pashmina Artisans

February 27th, 2021 | 193 views
Empowering Pashmina Artisans

Agar firdous baroye zameen ast,

Hameen asto hameen asto hameen ast

(If there is a paradise on earth, it is this, it is this, it is this)

~Amir Khusrau

This couplet, framed by one of the most acclaimed Persian poets in awe of the Kashmir Valley, aptly describes its breathtaking beauty which rustles in the autumnal leaves of the Chinar. It unfolds in the soft thuds of snow and flows through its capital in the silent murmur of the Jhelum river.

The city of Srinagar is home to a rich culture that resonates in its several parts. Be it primitive architecture, close-knit neighborhoods, traditional attires, and century-old customs. The locals have preserved everything like a Holy grail. Home to over 15 luxury handicrafts including hand-carving, Papier Mache, Pashmina shawls, and tapestry making, one would possibly assume that the valley brims with economic prosperity like the intermediaries of its crafts do.

However, that is far from the reality

Take a closer look at a Pashmina artisan’s life and you will realize how this skilled class of people has been devoid of a decent standard of living. Take the case of Pashmina shawls for instance. Who would have imagined that a weaver of the most expensive and rare fabric of the world would be struggling to send his children to school?

Pashmina Artisans and The Turmoil

Precisely three decades ago, the craft of Pashmina making was a matter of pride. If you were a Pashmina artisan from Kashmir, you would be revered by people from all walks of life. You would be asked how you spin and weave the miraculous fabric and you would be sought after by international fashion designers, brands, and fashion houses alike (especially from European countries where Pashmina, known to them as Cashmere, is as precious as a diamond on the Queen’s crown).

Handweaving of Pashmina
Handweaving of Pashmina being done by a Kashmiri Artisan

Needless to say, with so many international orders pouring in, Pashmina making was considered a good source of revenue for all the 33 artisans involved in its making. And then the calamity struck. The beautiful valley was faced with never-ending political turmoil. All of a sudden, life came to a standstill. Designers stopped visiting, customers stopped pouring and the Pashmina artisan was the worst hit. Suddenly, a weaver, who would live a flamboyant lifestyle was on his knees, deprived of basic income. When the desperation for work grew, they settled for lower wages.“Something is better than nothing,” they thought. Little did they know that this settling would doom their living standards for decades to come.

Intervention of the machine - a blow to Pashmina artisans

Earlier, each household in the old Srinagar city would produce at least two Pashmina artisans-a spinner and a weaver. Generally, the women would spin the fibre while the men would weave. Together, they would run the errands of the house. Others would opt for dyeing, embroidering, washing, and cleaning.

Women Pashmina Artisans

A lesser-known fact is that Pashmina spinning was a means of financial independence for Kashmiri women. They could earn their own bucks, without having to depend on a man to provide for them. However, that is a thing of the past now.

“Factory owners purchase all of the raw material these days. They get the Pashmina spun by machines and even adulterate it with nylon. They are exploiting our Pashmina craft with these synthetic infected cheaper variants. We feel obsolete. Despite our protests, we are not able to stop them and protect our livelihood because they pay better prices to the trader than what we can offer. Money speaks. We feel like we have traveled back to a time when women were not in a position to earn their own money,” says Hasina, a middle-aged woman who was known to spin Pashmina fibres at the speed of light. Unfortunately, she could not match the price a rich factory owner can pay for the raw material.

Loss of Livelihood

So many women like Haseena have lost their livelihood because of similar reasons and their financial independence has been crippled, perhaps forever.

These women are not the only ones being hit. With machine intervention in the craft of Pashmina making, all the artisans were equally impacted-some sooner, others later. This is because factory owners added synthetic fibres (like nylon) to Pashmina shawls while spinning them over machines. The resulting product was low on quality and sold in the name of pure Pashmina. This cheaper variant caused allergies and skin irritations in a few people. They would wobble soon and show evident signs of a nylon product. When customers realized this, they stopped trusting the quality a Kashmiri artisan provided them and thus orders stopped. A Kashmiri artisan was misrepresented on an international level, his innocent voice unheard due to the influence of more powerful people dominating the market.

Fake Pashmina and replicas

The misrepresentation did not stop here. Soon, Pashminas shawls started selling for as little as $5. How could this be when it takes between two to six months of unending work by 33 people to craft one Pashmina shawl? Yes, you guessed it right. Replicas started flooding the market and the mistrust between a Pashmina lover and maker kept on growing. Nothing was done to widen the gap between the two. How would Pashmina then sell?

“Nylon scarves are being sold in the name of the Pashmina we spend months making. Since these are cheap, people tend to gravitate towards them, only to be disappointed later. Our name and craft which we hold so dear to our hearts are being exploited over and over again. We urge the customers not to fall for the trap and choose the real Pashmina instead!”, says Bashir Ahmed, a 60-year-old Pashmina weaver. Bashir has witnessed both the glory and the downfall of this elaborate art form.

Also read: 7 Tests to Identify Genuine Pashmina

The Intermediaries

To put a final nail in the coffin, intermediaries (distributors, wholesalers, and retailers) emerged and made heaps of money by exploiting the grassroot Pashmina artisan. How? They would procure Pashmina directly from the artisan, add their own margin (without adding any value). Later they would sell it at hefty prices in the international markets. When it came to paying the artisan, they paid peanuts, filling their own pockets with all of the profit. Back in the 1980s, when the valley was free of conflict & turmoil, a Pashmina artisan would make around $3 per shawl. Sadly, he still earns the same amount. His wages have not improved ever since. With increased inflation, Pashmina makers find it hard to sustain a basic living.

“I have been struggling to arrange the school fee for my 7-year-old. This is the state of all Pashmina artisans today. While the intermediaries who sell in our name live flamboyant lives, we are left to struggle for basic survival. This time, our own people have sucked our blood. You see my glasses. They are broken and I do not have money to get them fixed. Buying a new frame would be a luxury. I don’t even want that. I just want my child to get a quality education and choose a profession other than Pashmina making. That way he does not have to reel under the same poverty that we do,” says Fayaz, a third-generation Pashmina weaver. Fayaz desperately wants his son to secure a government job so that he lives a stable life, unlike his father.

While his eyes reveal his struggles, an embroiderer from his group, about 60 years of age chimes in.

The Ordeal of Women Pashmina artisans

“It was a matter of honor when my father handed over this Karkhana (workshop) to me. About 60 artisans would work here every single day. Our craft was booming. Today, we barely see 5 to 6 faces in a single Pashmina workshop. The others have changed their occupations. I don’t blame them. What else could they do? Passion for a craft does not quench thirst or hunger. The number of Pashmina makers in the valley has drastically reduced because we are paid very little and untimely wages. For instance, if I embroider a shawl today, I will have to follow up with the intermediary for over a year, till he pays me. During that time, I have to toil on my own, unpaid for the work I have already done.

I have a daughter who inherited my skills at a very young age. She would earn on her own, never rely on me or her husband for any money until our craft was struck by calamities. Today, she works as a maid in somebody’s house. These intermediaries have killed our market, our honour, and our pride. The way things are progressing, I don’t think there will be any Pashmina makers left in the valley. Perhaps then the world will understand the true value of an artisan.”

And there was more...

While looking for artisans who had switched to other occupations, we met Gulshan. Gulshan was a calm and composed 21 year old lady who happens to be the sole breadwinner of her family. Her brothers have abandoned her parents. Now the entire responsibility of the household, comprising of ailing elderly parents, rests on her shoulders. Gulshan learnt the skill of Pashmina spinning from her mother while she was barely 12 years old. Her father used to be a Pashmina weaver before he was paralyzed. With barely any education received, Meenu knows of no other way to run the basic errands of her household. Pashmina spinning is just not enough anymore. It doesn’t even suffice for the monthly groceries.

Slowly, but surely, many people of this craft started shifting to other occupations. Some embraced carpentry, some secured government jobs.

Lack of new designs and technological intervention

If you are served a chocolate cake right now, you’ll hog it all. If we serve you the same chocolate cake every day, you’ll hate it. Something similar happened with Pashmina. Cashmere Pashmina shawls are 7 centuries old. In the initial days, artisans would create heavy embroidery-laden shawls. These were cherished by people across the world.

However, there came a time when people evolved. So did the market and their lifestyle. The era of wearing gawdy accessories was over while our Kashmiri artisans had no clue about the changing trends. When they could not match what the customers really wanted, the sales dropped down. Pashmina artisans are generally uneducated. They have no clue about technological interventions and the power of the internet. This is one of the reasons they lagged behind.

How Pashmina.com Uplifts Kashmiri Pashmina Artisans

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The gloom of Kashmiri Pashmina artisans finally met some optimism when Pashmina.com empowered them. Now artisans had the ability to showcase their products directly to a global audience. It bridged the gap between a Cashmere lover who seeks nothing but an original masterpiece and a grassroot artisan who wants to be recognized for his work.

When you buy a Pashmina from Pashmina.com, you are not just shopping. Rather, you are eliminating intermediaries, fakes, and replicas which have tarnished the Cashmere market. Above all, you are eliminating the powerful factory owners who have infected this elaborate art form with cheap variations of their own.

The Independence of Artisans

At Pashm, an artisan gets to decide the price of his/her product without having to share the earnings with anyone. Each purchase you make directly improves their livelihood and elevates their standards. The artisans associated with Pashmina.com are always paid upfront in order to motivate them to keep working at their craft. Your purchase sparks hope in their hearts. It encourages them to do better. Not only this, the designers at Pashmina.com ensure that an artisan knows exactly what the modern buyer wants so that they can align their products accordingly. Today, Pashmina.com has become the face of the Kashmiri artisan who now feels confident and positive. Do you realize how powerful that is?

Indulge in the beautiful world of Pashmina HERE!

We, Pashmina.com, are the largest curators of pure and handcrafted Pashmina products in the online space. We are on a mission to revive this dying art by spreading our wings throughout the world by way of our online platform. Our website serves as a window to our range of products that are luxurious and have the highest quality. We offer the widest range, certified quality, luxurious packaging and free shipping to over 150 countries.

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