While many believe that Pashmina shawls are banned, this is actually not true. It is shahtoosh shawls, which are obtained from the chiru goat (declared endangered under CITES), that are banned. Pashmina is cruelty free and permitted to wear whenever one wishes
The regality of Kashmiri Pashmina Shawls dates back to the 14th century when Sufi saint Mir Syed Ali Hamdani traveled to Kashmir from Persia along with 700 skilled artisans and made the then king start a factory to process and manufacture wraps and other wearables out of this luxury fibre. Since then, the skill of Pashmina making and selling enjoyed purity and originality, but later when industrialization took over, a few vendors planned to deceive customers and sell wool or other adulterated fabrics by the name of Pashmina.
Because innocent customers didn’t know the difference between original and fake, they fell for the fake promises made by vendors and purchased fake Pashminas in place of original ones. The problem further enhanced when the actual artisans of Pashmina making started to suffer. For this reason, the team of Pashm, along with an experienced Kashmiri Pashmina vendor, endeavour to regain the lost glory of original Pashmina making. In addition to this, we set out to find why are Pashmina shawls banned, if banned at all.
Light, downy, and sensuous to touch, the word Pashmina in itself sounds luxurious. And why shouldn’t it be? After all, it is the 14000 feet high mountain ranges of Ladakh, where the Changthangi goat fights the severe winter season with the coat of Pashmina over its underbelly which protects it from the freezing weather. At the onset of summer, the goat rubs itself with shrubs, rocks or barbed wires, leaving this delicate and extremely fine treasure of fibre for patrons to collect and weave into majestic Pashmina shawls, wraps or other regal ensembles or accessories who do it with utmost skill.
How meticulous is the process of transforming the adulterated fibre of the Pashmina into a pure fabric. The collection from dangerous high altitude places, the cleaning, spinning, weaving, dyeing and finally designing it into the specified silhouette, all the steps toward making a Pashmina special requires huge skill and deftness. Such a special craft required special attention. And our quest to explore this wonderful craft gave surprising results as we went deep into the process of making a Pashmina with an artisan who has been associated with this craft for more than 50 years now - Ghulam Nabi - a patron of the heritage Pashmina art whose sorrowful eyes narrate the tale of how his skill lost to fake and cheap copies of the original craft.
Taking a trip through the narrow streets of the downtown area of Srinagar, the heart of the Kashmir valley, we managed to reach a place where every traditional craft of the valley which includes Copperware, Paper Mache, silverware, and others had their own shops where the best-skilled artists worked. Amongst all of these matchbox-sized shops, Ghulam Nabi owned a larger shop where he sold his Pashmina shawls which he managed to manufacture at home.
We entered his shop and introduced ourselves, and asked him if he could give us time to narrate the legends of the original Kashmiri Pashmina and how he stepped into its making. But since the downtown area is filled with the hustle and bustle of a typical marketplace, we got an invitation to his home the next day. We left his shop but our eyes couldn’t miss the masterpieces that they captured in this short period of time. In just a few minutes, we had perhaps witnessed all the colours and all the patterns that the valley is world-famous for, and that ever existed. And we knew one thing for sure, we had come to the right destination.
Our team spent the night in a local hotel room, excited about what was going to happen the other day. The next day, early in the morning, we reached the place where Ghulam Nabi had invited us to. Remembering the treasurous collections we had seen yesterday, all of us expected a large showroom where around at least a hundred people would be working. Instead we were surprised to see a small, not so well lit room and four women working on four different pieces over a charkha.
We all sat together, had a cup of tea and then came to the main point of discussion. What is pashmina, where it came from, how is it processed and is there a compromise on the quality of Pashmina. At once Ghulam Nabi peeped out of the window, and his eyes seemed to be travelling in time, as if the 50 years he spent with this craft played right in front of him.
“The craft is not at its best,'' said Ghulam Nabi who started his discussion with a complaint. And when we asked why the craft had lost itself with time, he couldn’t stop but narrate the ordeal of his work. “When we started making Pashmina, our motive was to show Kashmir to the world and introduce its different crafts to those areas which had never even known what Kashmir was and what it produced. But now, sellers just care about money. They want to give less and take more”, said Ghulam Nabi in a tone that sounded angrier.
Gradually what we realized with his words was the same affliction that most of the crafts of Kashmir have been through. The craft of Pashmina was once at its zenith just because it was pure. But now, when people introduced cheaper copies of the same, adulterated with either wool or nylon, or dipped local woolen clothes in a fabric softener to give it a feel of Pashmina, the original craft started declining. Customers were cheated upon by local vendors by claiming their fabric to be made of Pashmina, and innocent customers, who never before had seen or touched Pashmina believed it to be true. With time, there was a rumour that Pashmina is banned, as it leads to animal cruelty. But Ghulam Nabi had a different opinion. PASHMINA WAS NEVER BANNED!
Ban on Shahtoosh
Pashmina is not banned. It is Shahtoosh that is banned. It's a tittle-tattle, and is spread usually by those individuals who have certain vested interests in creating this confusion among the masses. The reason for them doing this is that since Pashmina shawls are the best quality shawls available, their low-quality shawls get adversely affected due to more demand for the former.
Which shawls are banned?
It's not completely a hoax that Kashmiri shawls are banned. But the category of shawls which is banned is Shahtoosh. Kashmiri wool has certain degrees according to their quality and finesse of the fibre they are made from. Shahtoosh is the top quality wool, obtained from Chiru goat. The fibre diameter is even less than that of Pashmina fibre. While Cashmere is 12-16 microns in diameter, Shahtoosh fibre is just 8 microns. This property leads it to be so fine that it can easily pass through a finger-ring. Many more differences between Pashmina and Shahtoosh are discussed below.
Difference between Pashmina and Shahtoosh
Pashmina and Shatoosh, both are obtained from the hair of goats which live on high altitudes. But there are several commonalities between the two. Shahtoosh is obtained from an endangered species of goats called Chiru, or the Tibetan Antelope. The animal has been listed in the endangered animal list under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
The fleece growing on the Tibetan Antelope is obtained by trapping it forcefully, killing it, and skinning the hair from its underbelly. Animal cruelty is the basic reason besides the decreasing number of Chiru goats, why Shahtoosh was banned. But unfortunately, Shahtoosh is still being marketed due to high demand from the west. The reason for this high demand is the finesse, light weight, extreme warmth and a graceful look that Shahtoosh shawls lend to its wearer. A Shahtoosh shawl weighs less than half of a Pashmina shawl, and for this reason, it is too expensive.
Shahtoosh is considered to be one of the world's finest wools and is considered the choice of the elite.
Pashmina too is one of the best quality shawls, just not as fine as Shahtoosh. It is produced from the fine raw Cashmere wool which grows on the underbelly of Ladakhi Changthangi goat. The main reason why Pashmina is not banned is that the Changthangi goat is domesticated. Hence, herders do not need to kill it for wool. Pashmina goats are professionally dealt with in hot summer, and the wool of their body is gently combed off.
Also read: What is Pashmina?
The prices of Shahtoosh and Pashmina too differ. While a Shahtoosh shawl may even cost some 15-20 thousand dollars, the highest range of Pashmina will be 10 thousand dollars (US)
As responsible citizens, we should consider the ban on shahtoosh as a serious one. We should never try to buy or trade shahtoosh, even if it is too alluring. If you still have a question about why are pashmina shawls banned, here is the answer to it - there is no ban on Pashmina, and we can have as many pieces of the same as we want.