Cashmere shawls are the world-famous luxury wrap accessories that swept royals off their feet when they first got introduced to the world. Mughals in India, Chieftains in the East India Company, Persian Rulers, European kings, emperors, and empresses all were fascinated by the sheer charm that Cashmere shawls would exude.
Apart from being utmost fine and elegant, Cashmere shawls were the coziest wraps that the world had seen to date. Demand for Cashmere shawls exceeded its supply which gave Kashmir a superior name and fame back in the 16th century. They were traded all over the world with maximum customers being the rich and influential of Europe, North America, Australia, and Asia.
What is Cashmere?
Cashmere is one of the finest goat wool. The wool is a down fibre of an exotic goat found in Ladakh which survives a temperature of -40 degrees because of the warmth of raw Cashmere. As summers arrive, the wool is combed off its body by professionals and processed manually by Kashmiri artisans. It is cleaned, spun, woven, and embroidered and what comes out are exquisite Cashmere shawls, ready to fascinate the world by their allure and royal demeanor.
Where is Cashmere shawl made?
Capra Hircus - or the Pashmina goat belongs to a region called Changthang. The region lies over 14000 feet above sea level and is home to a nomadic tribe. This tribe is called Changpa. It is the Changpa tribe that is responsible for rearing the Pashmina goat. The tribe lives with its goats in a tent that is barely lit and minimally warm. In the morning the goats are sent outside the tent to graze but returned back as cold intensifies. The region experience a tough winter and temperatures fall below-40 degrees.
To survive these harsh conditions, the Pashmina goat grows a special kind of wool as an undercoat. This undercoat is soft, warm and fine, and saves the Pashmina goat from the harsh and freezing temperature around it. But as soon as summer arrives, the goat becomes hot and uneasy as it feels an uncomfortable warmth. It rubs its body against rough bushes and stones and gets rid of some of the wool. The rest of it is removed by professionals who comb the body of the goat gently and make it easy for it to move around in hot climatic conditions. Note that this wool grows back fully as soon as it's winter. This raw wool is Cashmere. It is manually processed and transformed into luxury shawls, over which the entire world swoons.
It takes three goats to make one cashmere shawl of length 200 cm and breadth 100 cm. A Pashmina goat grows around 150 grams of wool per year, and a Cashmere shawl weighs around 450-500 grams. The wool is so fine that its diameter is just 12-16 microns. Note that human hair is around 50-70 microns thick.
Ethical Processing of Cashmere shawls
The process of dehairing a goat is not cruel at all. A team of professionals dehair the goats one by one using specialized combs and shearing tools. The goats do not get hurt at all. The hair is very gently combed off the goat's body, collected, and handed over to Kashmiri artisans for further processing. The entire process is ethical and no living being is hurt.
Processing in Kashmir
As soon as the wool reaches Kashmir, it is received by women who begin cleaning it for several; days. Dirt, dust, thorns, vegetable wastes and so many other impurities have to be removed to make it pure. The pure lump of wool is now sent for spinning. Womenfolk of Kashmir from different corners of the valley, take some quantity of wool and spin it at their respective homes over a wooden spinning wheel called Yinder. Yinder makes fine yarn out of the lump of wool. The fine yarn has a diameter of 12-16 microns. It is soft, delicate, and exceptionally warm.
This yarn is now handed over to weavers who mount it over a manual handloom. It is the wooden classic handloom that weavers have been using for centuries. Weavers weave the fine yarn into luxury Cashmere shawls, stoles, scarves, and many other accessories. Hence Cashmere shawls are made in Kashmir, but the raw material (Pashm) is acquired from Ladakh.
India and Cashmere shawls
The possession of goats has been the heritage of India. Especially the goats in the Himalayan region which produce cashmere. Cashmere is the fine, warm, and soft undercoat of the goat which keeps it warm in winter. India produces the best quality Cashmere in the world. Two Pashmina goat breeds - Changthangi and Chegu - are found in India, but Changthangi goats yield the best quality Cashmere. It is this Cashmere that is famous all over the world and whose processing takes place manually in Kashmir