One of the rarest and luxurious natural fibres in the world, cashmere is a down fibre of a goat, which accounts for its unparalleled feel and look. But with a number of brands as well as small manufacturing units producing this fibre in bulk, it is hard to differentiate the fake from the pure.
When Cashmere was introduced to the world for the first time, it was all pure and natural. In Kashmir, it was a 16th-century Sufi saint, who introduced Kashmiri Cashmere to the world. As manufacturing units were set up in the valley, people from all corners of the world visited the valley. At once, every single person was mesmerized by its feel, look, and the ultimate warmth it provided to its wearer. Gradually the trade of Cashmere started between Kashmir and the rest of the world, especially Europe. Thousands of orders came from France and Scotland, and Kashmiri artisans had more work and much more salaries. The economy hence grew exponentially, and more and more people started to engage in the process of Pashmina shawl making. Cashmere artisans were one of the richest and revered people in society.
With time, fraudsters and greedy traders started manufacturing fake Cashmere wraps. Some mixed nylon with pure Cashmere and some sold sheep’s wool in the name of Cashmere. Women who invested in such wraps felt the difference between pure and fake when these new blended wraps lasted for 2-3 years only. The same wraps they brought just 10 years back were as fresh as new. Then come the same thing is depleting month to month.
The decline of the world-famous Shawl
With the falling quality of Cashmere wraps and doubts about its purity, women in the west dropped the idea of buying it from Kashmir. Besides, fashion changed in Europe and women preferred not to wear Cashmere shawls either by removing or replacing them. This was a huge blow to the local artisans, who lost all their wealth, and soon turned underprivileged.
Hence before you buy a luxury wrap from Kashmir, it is essential that you know everything about it. What is Cashmere, what is it made out of, how does it reach us, all these questions need to be answered, and that is what the following is about.
What is Cashmere?
Cashmere is the down fibre of a rare goat species which is found in Changthang, Ladakh. This wool is handcrafted - spun and woven - to make luxury Kashmiri Pashmina shawls, which have a history of being admired by ancient royalty all over the world. From King Akbar to Princess Josephine - every art patron owned hundreds of Pashmina shawls and even decorated their royal courts with its regal mien.
What is Cashmere made out of?
Cashmere - the luxury fibre - is made out of a soft fleece that grows as a down fibre on a rare goat’s body. This goat is known as the Changthangi goat or the Cashmere goat and is found in Ladakh. In the Changthang area of Ladakh, the weather is more than harsh in the winter season, and the temperature dips to -40 degrees. This helps the goat to grow a soft fleece all over its body, especially as a down coat naturally, and hence protecting it from the freezing cold days.
However, as soon as Spring arrives, the fleece makes the cold uneasy, and it naturally starts rubbing its body with coarse surfaces like stones, walls, bushes, trees, thus spreading the wool all over its occupied area. The nomadic tribe, who rear these goats, call for professional help, who arrive with specialized tools and combs. Fine wool is gently combed off the body of the goat, and it roams around again, relieved.
This wool is raw Cashmere and is full of dirt, dust, and the surrounding remains. It has to be cleaned, which is mostly done by womenfolk of Ladakh. Later clean Cashmere wool is sent to Kashmir, where it is processed and transformed into luxury Pashmina shawls, scarves, and other accessories and apparel.
Ethical or Cruel
The issue of fake Cashmere wraps was still a burning one when another hurdle came in its path. And that was this fine wool being cruel to animals. Many believe that Cashmere production is not ethical and animals die for it. However, any such claim is not true. It is not Cashmere that is unethical, or cruel to the goats. Cashmere has been confused with Shahtoosh, which is another kind of wool. Shahtoosh comes from the Chiru goat, which is a wild animal. Hunters of chiru hide at places where the chiru goats come in groups and brutally kill them all. They are later skinned, and their fleece is used to make Shahtoosh shawls. Nevertheless, Shahtoosh shawls have now been banned.
Cashmere does not have to be cruel to goats, neither get them killed. The reason is that Changthangi goats are not wild, but domestic. Hence professional wool collectors comb off their bodies every season, and the new wool grows in winter again. Besides, the Ladakhi goat is the only source of income for the Changthangi people. How can they themselves kill the goats and stop the only way of their survival?
Cashmere is not cruel, neither do goats die for its production. In fact, goats themselves get rid of this fleece in Spring, and the selling of Cashmere starts during winter. Also, it's not shearing of the wool, but combing the Cashmere fleece gently. Combing does not even hurt the goat, let alone killing it.
Also read: Why is Shahtoosh banned?
Is Cashmere ethical?
Yes. Cashmere is ethical. It is a natural fibre, its processing is manual, and no pollution-causing machines are used for it. Besides it contributes to slow fashion, in the way that it lasts for more than 20 years. Hence Cashmere is sustainable, and a responsible buy.
Buying pure Cashmere can help uplift an underprivileged group of artisans, who lost jobs to fake and blended Cashmere. Its production supports hundreds of artisans and survives them being the only source of income for themselves and their families. Shopping Cashmere from Kashmir can help make their conditions better, and revive this traditional art of shawl making once again.
Also read: Pashmina Gifts - A Lifetime of Memories