Pashmina refers to the fine art of handcrafting luxury shawls, scarves, and wraps out of Cashmere wool. Cashmere grows as an undercoat on the body of a Himalayan goat. This fine wool is procured meticulously, processed, and transformed into apparel, wraps, shawls, accessories, and even furnishing. The finesse, smooth touch, warmth, and luxurious experience that Pashmina gives make it famous all over the world. But with all these merits, the art has received an unfortunate “cruelty” tag to its name. For this reason, a large number of customers believe that Pashmina is banned. Is it true? Or is it just a back fence talk, we found out.
Process of Pashmina making
The process of handcrafting fabric from Cashmere fibre is complex and arduous. It takes from several months to years to make Pashmina shawls and scarves. However, knowing the process, one can guess if the Pashmina ban is authentic or not. A shawl goes through the skillful hands of hundreds of artisans before completion. As such, Pashmina is the bread and butter of a large number of households in Kashmir. Families still depend on this art, which is revered all over the world.
It is Changthang, an area 14000 feet above sea level in the Ladakh region of Kashmir, where Buddhist herders rear animals to survive. The temperature in this area goes down to -40 degrees C in winters, and the area is cut off from the rest of the world by a thick layer of snow, covering everything around. For survival, the herders depend on the animals, which provide them food, milk, warm clothes, and the activities related to them to spend time in this harsh winter. Out of many animals is a rare and peculiar species of goat known as Changthangi goat (named after their hometown). The goat is especially known to grow fine wool as an undercoat, which is exceptionally warm, smooth, and soft. This wool is Cashmere.
Procuring Cashmere from the goat
The goats are domestic animals and hence are never forced to give out Cashmere. This makes Pashmina ban more questionable. Besides in the Spring season, their wool naturally falls out as a result of hormonal changes. The rest of the wool left on some parts of its body, too, is gotten rid of by the animals themselves. This is because as summer arrives, the warmth of hair makes them uncomfortable, and they tend to get rid of it by rubbing their bodies against coarser surfaces. Herders collect the wool, comb off the little left on their underbellies, and pack them in small packets, to be sent for processing.
The actual processing in Kashmir
Processing of Cashmere takes place in Kashmir where skillful craftsmen and women with decades of experience await its arrival. As soon as it reaches Kashmir, it is handed over to women at the beginning who clean it thoroughly. Post cleaning, it is spun first, which converts lumps of wool to fine yarn. The yarn is then handwoven over traditional handlooms, which transforms fine yarn into fabric. The fabric is used to make shawls, scarves, apparel, furnishing items, and baby blankets (owing to its softness).
Is Pashmina Banned?
With such fame and honour, Pashmina art became world-famous, but circles of rumours surrounded it. There were misstatements about Pashmina being cruel. Some believed that to acquire Cashmere from the goat, it had to be killed. Only then can one acquire Cashmere. However, upon tremendous research on this topic, researchers came to the conclusion that Pashmina was not at all cruel. To acquire Cashmere, herders call for professional help, where professionals come with specialized combs to “gently comb out” the hair from their bodies. Besides, these are domestic animals, who are known to their herders for years. They need not be forced to obtain their wool.
THEN WHAT WAS THE RUMOUR ABOUT?
Shahtoosh - the banned beauty from Kashmir
It is Shahtoosh wool which is banned, not only locally, but all over the world. This is because Shahtoosh wool is obtained from the Chiru (the Tibetan antelope), which is wild and now an endangered antelope. To obtain the undercoat of Chiru, it has to be killed, since it is a wild animal. This makes Shahtoosh illegal and hence it is banned due to animal cruelty.
Shahtoosh was one of the finest and warmest wools all over the world. One fibre of Shahtoosh measured just 8-10 microns in diameter, which made it microscopic for the eyes. Shahtoosh shawls were exceptionally lightweight, and full women shawls weighed minimal 160 grams. Shahtoosh shawls were called ring shawls because owing to their finesse, they could be passed through a finger-ring. It is said that these shawls were so warm that they could hatch a pigeon egg! It took the wool of three to five chiru antelopes to make one shawl, and hence their population decreased exponentially. In 1995, an international ban on the trade of shahtoosh was signed by 142 countries. Shatoosh is globally banned, and its sales and trade are illegal all over the world now.
Not cruel, not banned, Pashmina is sustainable and responsible
On the other hand, while Pashmina is accused of being cruel, it is conversely responsible and planet-friendly for several reasons. Pashmina ban succumbs when we know these points
- There is no use of machines, and hence no environmental pollution or wastage
- Cashmere is combed out, and not plucked or sheared from the goat. The wool grows back before winter on its body. Hence no question of animal cruelty arises.
- Pashmina shawls last for over 20 years. Hence the art patronises slow fashion against fast fashion which has damaged our planet in an irreparable fashion.
- There still are thousands of families in Kashmir which solely depend on this art for their survival. Hence, besides empowering its artisans, Pashmina art is responsible for sustaining hundreds of families.
- Being a natural fibre, Pashmina is biodegradable. It breaks down quickly, returning its nutrients to the soil without releasing plastic microfibers into the environment, as its synthetic competitors do.
Is Pashmina banned in USA?
The answer is a simple NO. Pashmina is not banned anywhere in the world. Those are Shahtoosh shawls which are banned in the US and all over the world. In fact, the US is one of the leading importers of Pashmina. Hence if you live in the US and are planning to buy a Pashmina shawl or scarf, feel free to do so. You are a responsible shopper!
Also read: Pashmina - Unwrap the virtues of Art