The Pashmina shawl, one of the world’s most sought-after luxury products comes from Kashmir, India. Made of superior Cashmere, it has been synonymous with extravagance since the 18th century. Back in the day, the royal class members like Empress Josephine swore by them and in modern times, they were revived by the Hollywood stars of the 90’s. In earlier history also, Cashmere shawls are not unheard of. Afghan texts from the 3rd century BC have mentioned them while other evidences suggest the introduction of Persian weavers bringing this special skill to Kashmir.
Often known as the world’s finest fabric, Cashmere is a kind of wool that was first encountered by the Westerners in the Indian state of Kashmir, hence the name. What differentiates Pashmina from regular Cashmere is the fact that the Pashmina wool is finer, i.e., it is only between 12 and 15 microns while regular Cashmere is between 15 and 18 microns. Another difference is that the Pashmina wool comes from a rare breed of goat called the “Changthangi”, which constitutes only 0.01% of the world’s cashmere producing goat population.
The exoticism of Pashmina wool can be seen right from the time of its collection. In the freezing temperatures of the Himalayas, the Pashmina goats develop a second layer of inner fleece that doubles the thickness of their usual coat. This special coat is collected in the spring by brushing the goats, especially from the neck and stomach region where the hair is the finest. Quite often this process is taken over by the nomadic herders called ”Chang Pa”, that live in the highlands. Then this wool is transported to the Kashmir Valley, which is the only place worldwide that has mastered the art of spinning Pashmina. This historical form of collection is sustainable and environmentally responsible but is being replaced by more commercial, unethical methods. That is why it is very important to check the source of the Pashmina before making an investment.
For centuries, Kashmir has held unrivalled mastery in the spinning and weaving of Pashmina. Spinning is a job mastered by the womenfolk. Traditionally done on a spinning wheel, the same procedure is followed till date. The spun yarn is then woven into fine shawls using old-school looms that give an unmatched finish. The “Chashme Bul-Bul” or the “diamond" are classic patterns of weaving and result in the highest quality of fabric. The shawls can also be woven with stripes and squares directly into the loom using coloured yarn. Resulting in a cream or brown colour, naturally causes the shawls to be mildly-dyed.
Pashmina shawls come in soft pastels and dark colours like black, brown and navy. Sometimes they’re accompanied by delicate hand-embroidery that is meticulous and skilfully done by Kashmiri men. The designs can be floral-inspired or arabesque and look almost mystical.
Despite Kashmir having a monopoly in Pashmina for so long, over the last few years, due to economic and political instability, its position has been taken over by Nepal that does not meet the same high standard but is quite reliable. Today the market is adulterated with a variety of inauthentic “Pashmina” shawls. Some are made in Mongolia or China for peanuts but sold at exorbitant prices. One must always bear in mind that Cashmere may come from all of these places but Pashmina is exclusive to Kashmir, a region stretching from Northern India to Pakistan.