For a long time now, the general and less informed customers have doubts about Cashmere and Pashmina, and the difference between both. There are sellers who sell the same thing as Pashmina and then there are others who call it Cashmere. This is the basic reason for the misunderstanding of the common masses, who are anyway not fully informed about everything related to Pashmina or Cashmere. So today, we aim to demystify both of these and go back in history to find out which term was coined first, and which one the next.
History of Pashmina
Kashmiri shawls have always been world-famous, right from the Indus valley civilization. But in its native place, Kashmir, it was a Persian Sufi saint by the name of Mir Syed Ali Hamdani, who discovered Pashmina in Ladakh. Such soft wool, with exceptional warmth, did not have to be wasted. The saint immediately ordered socks to be made out of this fine wool and presented the same as a gift to the then ruler Zain ul Abideen. The king was highly impressed by this gesture of his and hence ordered manufacturing units to be set up for processing this fine wool and making apparel, wraps, or accessories out of it.
It is then when Pashm came to be known in Kashmir. Back then, the wool was called Pashm and the final product was called Pashmina. There would be Pashmina shawls, Pashmina robes, Pashmina scarves, and much more. The reason behind calling this Pashmina was its introduction by a Persian Saint. Pashmina is a Persian word that translates to “made from Pashm”. Pashm itself is a Persian word which means “soft gold” - as in the wool is soft and precious
When the prominence of Pashmina reached Europe, some wealthy Europeans too visited Kashmir to quench their artistic thirst. Thereupon they found Pashmina to be something to definitely invest in. Royalties decorated their royal courts with Pashmina and gifted relatives and political acquaintances with its monarchical grace. The most famous incident is that when Napoleon and his army were coming back from Egypt, they met someone who owned Pashmina shawls. Napoleon was fascinated and brought one as a gift to his wife. Empress Josephine was absolutely spellbound by the artistic demeanor and a crafty appeal that these shawls featured. She immediately took the gift and asked for more. In fact, it is said that she owned a few hundred Kani shawls from Kashmir.
It all happened due to the pronunciation difference of the westerners. The westerners, since they could not pronounce Pashmina properly, they called it Cashmere (derived from Kashmir itself). When they went back to their own countries, they referred to the shawls as Cashmere shawls, while locally the shawls were called Pashmina. Hence Pashmina was introduced in the west as Cashmere. However, the present scenario has changed. Knowing the source of the two and a bit of their past might be enough to demystify their essence and identity
Pashmina or Cashmere: the Source will tell the difference
If we know where Cashmere or Pashmina comes from, we can know the major difference between the two.
The northern part of India encompasses various breathtaking places, one of which is Ladakh. Ladakh is a region that is home to a particular species of goat. This species is called Changthangi goats or Pashmina goats. The goat belongs to the Changpa group, which is a herder community dominating the entire region of Changthang.
Changthang is as picturesque as it is difficult to survive in. The region is bearable to live in hot summers, but in winters, it is challenging. The region experiences a harsh winter and the temperature goes down to -40 degrees. As we begin to think that the animals might die of cold because of such freezing weather, there comes the role of Pashmina. The goat grows fine, delicate, and exceptionally warm wool as an undercoat. This coat provides it such warmth that it easily moves around, grazes, and basically survives in this region. But as winter waves the region goodbye, the story changes altogether.
Summers are hot, and warm wool makes the goat uncomfortable now. When it finds no other alternative, it starts rubbing itself against some rough surfaces like stones, walls, shrubs, and the floor, thereby losing some portion of this fine wool naturally. As herders see the goat in discomfort, they immediately seek professional help, and gently comb the wool away, leaving the goat free. Herders are left with a raw wool lump which is sent to Kashmir for processing, after some basic cleaning.
In Kashmir, as soon as the raw wool arrives, it is first cleaned again and sorted according to quality. The finest quality is chosen to make handcrafted wraps, apparel, and accessories. This fine wool is firstly handed over to spinners and then to weavers who weave it over a wooden handloom. The entire process from the arrival of raw wool to weaving it takes some weeks, and what comes out of the handloom is simply mesmerizing. In Kashmir usually, pashmina shawls and scarves are made. You can however order a sweater, gown, dress, or accessories to be made out of wool.
Also read: The Trail of India's Cashmere Goat Men
The Present Scenario: Is Cashmere same as Pashmina
Pashmina and Cashmere are often used as synonyms. But the above-mentioned making process will clear the differences, as will the present scenario faced by Pashmina.
At present, Cashmere is referred to the down fibre of Ladakhi goat which is found in the Changthang area of Ladakh. Cashmere yarn is 12-16 microns in diameter and is considered as one of the finest fibres in the world. The yarn is so fine that it is barely visible to the eye and so soft that it sometimes breaks, even by manual stress. It takes the Cashmere of three adult goats to make just one shawl. Naturally, Cashmere fibre is ash-coloured but later when woven, it can be dyed into any colour the wearer likes.
One of the reasons that Pashmina can be woven on a machine is that it can't bear the strain that the machine puts on the thread.
Pashmina, on the other hand, is the name given to the art of handcrafting luxury wraps from Cashmere fibre. Hence, Pashmina is the art of spinning and weaving cashmere, the downy undercoat of the Changthangi goat to make luxury shawls, scarves, stoles, and more
Cashmere yarn is a natural fibre and is exceptionally warm and soft. This makes Kashmiri Pashmina shawls the warmest of all wrap accessories. It is said that if you wear a Pashmina shawl, you do not need to put on layers of oversized coats and cardigans in fall and early winter days.
Fake Pashmina: A blow to Art
Nowadays the market has been flooded with cheap and fake copies, which are sometimes sold as Cashmere, and the others as Pashmina. The fine Cashmere yarn is often mixed with strength providing silk and nylon threads, and sold as pure Pashmina. This type of Pashmina is purely machine-made, and bring shame to the pure one. Pashmina is the exclusive art, where only pure Cashmere can be used to make luxury accessories. It should be a product of pure skilled craftsmanship and the experience of an artisan should be visible. But contemporary designs and the allure of fast fashion have led to the introduction of machines in this trade.
However, the grace of pure Pashmina is still unmatched. The way its weaves are uneven, the way its embroidery takes years together to complete, the way it takes the experience of a lifetime of its artisans to perfectly conjure it has no parallel.
Also read: 7 Tests to identify Real Pashmina
Pashmina and Slow Fashion
Slow fashion, ethical, and responsible shopping are all buzzwords now. And we are proud to confess that Pashmina has always been a sustainable accessory. Right from the start Cashmere is a natural fibre and is acquired manually in an ethical fashion. No animals are harmed in the acquisition of fine Cashmere from the goat’s underbelly and neck. The process is natural, and the super-soft fur is gently combed off the goat’s body and not even sheared.
Secondly, there is no machine intervention in the making. The process of weaving a Pashmina is manual. It is done over a wooden handloom, where two or more artisans sit at one place and spend four to five days to weave a shawl
A Pashmina shawl or should we say a Cashmere wrap employs local labour and helps survive small enterprises. In that way too, Pashmina, even if on the higher side of the price scale, helps underprivileged communities grow and develop.
The Bottom Line
Whether it is called Cashmere or Pashmina, whether a seller is selling you Cashmere or Pashmina, the bottom line is that it should be pure. Always check the purity of your Pashmina before you buy it. It is a lifetime investment. Buy from a verified dealer, do some checks at home and relish this luxurious treasure for an entire lifetime. Gift it to someone special. Gift Pashmina as wedding favours. Customize the shawls to gift as customized gifts for corporate gifting. Present this to a newlywed bride. But make sure the gift is pure, handmade, and full of love.