Owning a Pashmina has been a dream of women ever since its inception. And that has been the case all over the world, across gender, race, ages, and cultures. There have absolutely been no borders whenever it came to owning a Pashmina. Shawls made in Kashmir would reach Europe and the US alike and cherished by each and every admirer of craft.
In the past, Kashmiri artisans lived the life of kings. They would be invited to foreign countries so as to train the locals in their realms of artistic work like weaving, embroidery, or any other craft. This was especially true for Pashmina artisans. Being a manifestation of sophistication, every artisan around the world would love to be a Pashmina artisan and learn this craft. But that wouldn't be much possible, as raw Cashmere of the finest quality was available only in Ladakh - India.
The glory didn't live long
As time passed, the fame began to shun. And the community which once lived a luxurious life suddenly felt worthless in the society. The reason behind this downfall was another section of counterfeit traders, who sold fake Pashminas in the name of real Pashminas.
Pashmina is the art of handcrafting luxury wraps from raw Cashmere. Cashmere is found in Ladakh. It grows on the body of the Changthangi goat, which grows it as a defense against harsh cold. It is this smooth and fine wool that is extracted (ethically) from the goat, processed, and handcrafted to make Pashmina shawls, scarves, hijabs, and many accessories. Hence Pashmina comes from a natural fibre that is processed manually to make end products. And since the procedure is purely labour-intensive, it takes a lot of time for wraps to get ready.
For solid scarves and wraps, it might take 4-5 days, but for Kani shawls or fully embroidered Jamawar shawls, artisans spend years together to prepare one piece, which is as elegant as it is comfortable. But a problem arose during this time. There were customers who would need their scarves immediately, and couldn't get them. They would have to wait for at least 3 days; that is if the artisan worked days and nights together. Perhaps the solution would be to employ more than one artisan, but some traders had other plans, the plans which proved vicious for the entire industry. Machines
Introduction of Power Loom
As the demand for Pashmina shawls grew more and more, but the processing was slow because of manual labour, traders introduced machines into this craft. Power looms replaced handloom, and the shawl that was earlier crafted in 3-4 days, would now be ready in an hour! But the issue wasn't the speed, it was how the power loom treated the fine Cashmere, which is so delicate that it breaks even with the slightest of forces, even with hands. Hence to make the yarn bear the strain of the machine, pure Cashmere yarn would be mixed with strengthening fibre like nylon or silk, and then passed through machines. This way the resulting product wouldn't be pure Cashmere, it would be a fake Pashmina shawl, a fake Pashmina scarf, and hence not what the customer expected.
This new "quick-made" Pashmina created ruckus in the entire industry. Handloom workers lost jobs and the trend rendered hundreds of artisans jobless. Why would the customer wait for 3 days for them if he could get the same in one hour? Not knowing the long-term harm of this activity, customers actually went for fake Pashmina shawls. But later when the shawl exhausted in just a year, they realized that they have been cheated.
Reputation of Pashmina
Unaware of the reality, the customers came to the conclusion that Pashminas are all fake, and do not last for more than a year, whereas a real Pashmina lasts for a lifetime. Unnecessarily, Pashmina got a bad reputation and was replaced by its alternatives in a short span of time. Locally people still knew about fake and original Pashmina, and would directly shop from vendors who sold real Pashmina. But people living outside India never knew the real keepsake and went on with the idea that Pashmina is always compromised, and real Pashmina shawls do not exist now, at all.
What is Real Pashmina?
Real Pashmina, or call it original or authentic Pashmina is the one that has been handcrafted manually out of pure Cashmere from the goat. The goat sheds its down fibre in Spring, which is collected by herders, besides combing off the rest from the goat's body. This raw wool is collected and cleaned, sorted, before sending it to Kashmir. In Kashmir, artisans spin and weave it manually, and hence comes to life a handcrafted Pashmina, which has been famous ever since it was discovered. It is pure, soft, exceptionally warm, and has a natural grace. These shawls last for more than 20 years.
On the contrary, fake Pashmina shawls aren't as warm, have an artificial sheen, and last at the most for a year. These are the ones whose yarn gets mixed up with strengthening fibre and as a result, comes out a conglomerate of pure Cashmere and foreign material. This type sells for a lesser price due to a less percentage of Cashmere present in it. Moreover identifying a real Pashmina isn't easy. It takes an expert eye to differentiate between pure and fake Pashminas. But recently some tests have been devised to identify real Pashmina, and differentiate it from an impure one. Let us discuss one by one.
How to identify Real Pashmina?
There are a number of tests that we can conduct over a Pashmina shawl, that is if we already own one.
Test 1: The Burn Test
The burn has always been the first and primary test to prove the purity of Pashmina. Pick a piece from the fringes, place it on a plate, and burn it. If the cut fringe gives out the odour of a natural hair fibre upon burning, there are higher chances of the shawl being a real Pashmina. Also, the ash should turn into a powder, just burning a single strand of your own hair would do.
Test 2: Matte texture following the Burn
After you burn the fringe from Pashmina, the residue should be matte, and not very shiny. Pashmina mostly carries a matte look. If there is too much shine after burning, or even your shawl, chances are that the shawl is fake.
Test 3: Uneven weave of the shawl
Hold your shawl against bright light and notice the weave properly. Is it uneven? If yes, then there is a chance of the shawl being pure. If it has been handcrafted by artisans manually, the weave won't be perfect, and human error will be present clearly.
Test 4: Rubbing the Shawl
Rub your shawl a little at one of the corners. Does it produce static electricity? If it does, there is a chance that the shawl is fake. That is because polyester or acrylic fibre produces static electricity, and would generate sparks if rubbed. Natural fibre doesn't possess this quality and hence doesn't produce sparks if rubbed. This test is perhaps the easiest to conduct.
Test 5: The Pilling Test
Even if we never like our clothes piling, but here piling would prove otherwise. Real, original Pashmina shawls will pile. That is because they are crafted from natural fibre. If your Pashmina is shiny and does not pill at all, there are chances that silk or nylon might be mixed with it. It is just synthetic which prevents piling. This rule goes for wool too (sheep's wool)
Test 6: Is it actually comfortable to wear?
If your Pashmina shawl itches when you wear it or causes allergic reactions, then you might be possessing a fake product. Original Pashmina is soft, comfortable, and easy on your body.
Value of a Real Pashmina
Even though sellers sell their Pashmina, fake or real, at the same prices, but real Pashmina is indeed a little expensive than its cheaper copies. But, how much does a real pashmina cost? The price however depends on a number of factors like ply, count, and weaving design.
Ply is the density of fibre used to make a shawl. A single-ply Pashmina would mean that basic thread is used in its single form. Double-ply or two-ply would indicate that fibre is double twisted. Two-ply is more pricey, as it gives more strength to the scarf made. A single-ply scarf would be more delicate, sheer, and cheaper than the two-ply
Yarn count is a number indicating the meters of yarn that can be spun per gram. The more yarn count, the thinner, smoother, and more precious is the scarf. Therefore, a 100 count Pashmina shawl would mean that one gram of the shawl 100 meters of the yarn, and the fibre would be more delicate. This type of Pashmina would be more expensive, because the finer the fibre, the more painstakingly it is made.
Thickness of the Fibre
If the fibre used is thick, the Pashmina would lose its essence, and hence be less expensive. The finer the fibre used, the more pricey the shawl becomes. Besides, it is believed that the finer the fibre used, the warmer the shawl is.
How the shawl is woven, also determines the price. The diamond weave is the most expensive type, followed by twill weave and basket weave. Jacquard weave is also one special type that is usually saved for weddings or special occasions. A tighter weave will be more pricey than a loose one
In general, Pashmina shawls. in their solid exterior would value around $300, patterned and printed might go $350, embroidered shawls range from $800 to $10000 or more. The world popular Kani shawls value ranges from $1200 to $5000 or more. This is just an average. The values might be lesser more far greater than the above mentioned.