Ethical Pure Pashmina/Cashmere Shawls
For centuries, the word “Pashmina” has caused a stir in the minds of many luxury lovers across the world. Originating in the high and arid landscapes of Ladakh, the Pashmina traverses along an elaborate journey across the valley of Kashmir before it qualifies as a true masterpiece. Often referred in the west asCashmere, owning this piece of luxury remains a dream for men and women alike. Ethical pure pashminasare a specialty of Kashmir valley and have been rooted in its history since the century’s altogether.
Who Discovered Cashmere Pashmina?
Legend has it that a Muslim Saint, popularly known as Shah - e - Hamadan migrated towards the Valley of Kashmir in the 14th century along with a group of 700 craftsmen. When he visited Ladakh for the first time, he discovered that the Changthangi goats produced ultra-soft wool which could be used to make clothing and accessories. He made socks out of this wool and presented them to the then kind, Sultan Kutabdin. Ever since this wool has been used in making luxury shawls and scarves in the valley. In fact, the shawl making industry of the Valley is purely based on Pashmina and fetches revenue for thousands of artisans, weavers, spinners, dyers and embroiderers across the Valley.What is Pashmina?
Pashmina comes from the Persian word Pashm which translates to soft gold. Pashm is specialized wool falling with the range of 12 to 16 microns which comes exclusively from the Changthangi goat of Ladakh. The Pashm has a fibre length of approximately 55 mm, a finesse which is a major contributor to why it is the most sought after and expensive fibres of the world. A pure Pashmina/Cashmere shawl is a dream for men and women alike.
The Process of Pashmina Making
Before it qualifies as a piece of luxury, the pashmina has to pass through the hands of 33 grassroots artisans over a period of 1 to 6 months undergo multiple steps of change. It is these steps and efforts which earn it a place in luxury markets.
Shedding of Wool
The Changthangi goat resides at an altitude of 15000 ft above sea level and bears the famous Pashm fibre all along its body. This wool keeps the goat warm through the extreme winter. However, at the onset of summer, the goat shed its wool by rubbing itself against rocks and shrubs (thus making it cruelty-free). This wool is then collected by the locals and passed onto the first group of Kaarigars. It is noteworthy that no animal is harmed during this process. Rather, if the goat does not shed its wool naturally at the onset of summer, it would die out of the heat.
Combing and Dusting
A manual process of combing and dusting Pashmina is done by Ladakhi locals. This removes all impurities like dust, gravel and coarse hair from the fiber. The Pashm is then sorted on the basis of finesse, length, and color. Generally, a longer and whiter Pashm holds more value in the market than a regular one.
The Pashmina is sent to the valley of Kashmir by nomadic people to be passed on to skilled artisans who will further transform it into a piece of luxury. Upon arrival, the Pashm is first dehaired. Dehairing essentially removes the outer guard hair so that the fibre can be spun properly and have a better appearance and handle.
The Pashm is hand spun over a traditional wheel known as Yinder. This wheel resembles a Charkha and has an upright comb. The fiber obtained here is soaked in rice water for strength and cleaned to be further given to the weaver. Generally, it is the womenfolk who spin this Pashmina for their own financial independence.
Prior to weaving, the spun Pashmina is passed onto a Bharangor who mounts the Pashm onto small iron poles to stretch it and make it ideal for a weaver to process it. Weaving is by far the most important step in the making of a Pashmina. The Weaver mounts the fiber over a handloom and carefully weaves the Pashmina into warps and wefts. Shawls, stoles, scarves, fabrics, even suiting materials are made over this handloom in elaborate designs like chasm-e-bulbul, ribbed weave and more.
Dye and Wash
A specialized dyer colors the Pashmina using eco-friendly or azo free colors and washes it carefully.
Types of Pashmina On The Basis Of Purity
Traditionally, all the Kashmiri Pashmina would be 100% pure, hand spun and hand woven. However, the advent of technology has brought about certain machine-made variants into the market. It is important to be aware of these types before you decide to purchase your Pashmina.
GI Certified Pashmina
GI certified Pashminas are truly authentic and laboratory tested Pashminas. If you are in the dilemma of whether your Pashmina is truly genuine, it is better to opt for a GI one. GI stands for Geographical Indication and acknowledges that the handicraft is unique and produced in a particular area where people are especially skilled for it. The Pashmina, once woven is sent for a GI test where it obtains a seal of authenticity and a unique code. This code can be used by the buyer to verify authenticity and also gives the details of the spinner and weaver.
For a Pashmina to qualify the GI test, it must meet 3 specifications
1. It should be made of Pure Ladakhi Pashmina with a finesse of less than 16 microns.
2. It should be hand spun.
3. It should be hand woven over a specific handloom.
Machine Spun, Hand Woven Pashmina
This type of Pashmina uses a machine spun Pashmina fiber. It has a composition of 90% Pashmina and 10% of poly fiber which needed to be added if the Pashmina has to be passed through a machine.
There are multiple styles of Pashmina spanning the markets, whether you are looking to buy pashmina online or at a retail store.
Solid Colored Pashminas
These are plain, versatile and chic. Post weaving, they are colored using natural dyes.
These use small bobbins to weave a colorful myriad of a pattern which is chosen by kings and nobles of all eras to create a style statement. This Kani Pashmina was also gifted by Emperor Napolean to his wife Josephine.
These are warmer and made especially for gelid winters. They look and feel like a soft warm towel.
Hand embroideries like sozni or tilla in floral or Persian motifs are done over the base of Pashmina. These are the most popular type of Pashmina and make the most statement pieces. Embroidery laden Jamavars, netted Jaali patterns, Border worked Palladaar and scattered Bootidar patterns - all are a result of artisans working tirelessly to embroider a Pashmina while Sozni embroidery pieces make a formal statement, Tilla embroidered pieces are generally used for bridal trousseau or festive occasions. They glitter and shine in an antiquely resplendent manner.
Dip Dye Pashminas
These use tie and dye techniques using Azo free dyes over Cashmere Pashmina. Stylish Scarves, stoles, and shawls are hence conjured which are ideal to use for street wear.
Modern Design Pashminas
Voguish checks, stripes and ikkat patterns are cast in the weave of Cashmere Pashmina. This type of pashmina is generally seen in fashion shows and ramps and hence the name Modern Design Pashmina. Major fashion houses develop these Cashmeres which are originated in the remote valley of Kashmir.
Kalam means pen. Kalamkari Pashminas feature hand painting using a specialized fine pen to create patterns over a Pashmina shawl. These patterns may or may not be highlighted by a streak of Sozni embroidery. This type is rare and takes around 6 months for the artisan to make.
The Pashmina Ring Test
Pashmina lovers across the globe have been hoaxed by replicas of the luxury product since decades. In order to prove their point, the replicas are made to pass through a ring and it is said that since the fiber is extremely fine, it is the only fabric that will pass through the ring. However, the popular ring test was and remains a LIE.
The reality is that any soft fabric will pass through a ring - silk, regular wool, even viscose. The ring test for Pashmina does not hold.
Before you proceed to buy your Pashmina, be fully aware
Rather, the only way to test whether your Pashmina is genuine or not is the GI test. You give your Pashmina in the government acclaimed lab of the Craft Development Institute of Kashmir and get it tested. If it is 100% Pure Pashmina obtained from the Capra Hiracus goat of Ladakh, hand spun and hand woven over a specific handloom, then only it will pass the test.
The next time, anybody tries to fool you into the ring test fallacy, make sure you ask them about the GI test instead. After all, owning a true Pashmina is an investment. Who would want to invest in a replica?