Pashmina is a type of cashmere wool. The textiles made from it were first woven in Kashmir. The name comes from Persian: پشمینه / pašmina, meaning "made from wool" and literally translates to "Soft Gold" in Kashmiri. The wool comes from four distinct breeds of the Cashmere goat; namely the Changthangi or Kashmir Pashmina goat from the Changthang plateau in Kashmir region, the Malra from Kargil area in Kashmir region, the Chegu from Himachal Pradesh in northern India, and Chyangara or Nepalese Pashmina goat from Nepal. Pashmina shawls are hand spun, and woven in Indian Kashmir and Nepal, and made from fine cashmere fibre.
The fibre is also known as pashm or pashmina for its use in the handmade shawls of the Himalayas. The woolen shawls made in Kashmir are mentioned in Afghan texts between the 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD. However, the founder of the Pashmina industry is traditionally held to be the 15th century ruler of Kashmir, Zayn-ul-Abidin, who introduced weavers from Central Asia and even today, the master craftsmen in Kashmir pay tribute at his grave.
Cashmere shawls have been manufactured in Nepal and Kashmir for thousands of years. The test for a quality pashmina is warmth and feel. Pashmina and Cashmere are derived from the "capra hircus" mountain goat. One distinct difference between Pashmina and generic Cashmere is the fibre diameter. Pashmina fibres are finer and thinner (11-14 microns) than generic cashmere fibre (15-19 microns), and therefore, ideal for making light weight apparel like fine scarves. Today, however, the word "Pashmina" has been used too liberally and many scarves made from natural or synthetic fiber are sold as Pashmina creating confusion in the market.. The exorbitant price of a Pashmina shawl is due to the quantum of expert craftsmanship that goes into creating each shawl and the rarity of the Pashmina wool - the wool is used in an authentic Kashmiri Pashmina comes from the Changthangi breed of the capra hircus goat and this breed constitutes less than 0.1% of global Cashmere production.
As the fibre diameter is very low, Pashmina has to be hand-processed and woven into products such as shawls, scarves, wraps, throws, stoles, etc. Pashmina is the name given to it as Persians came to Kashmir via the routes of Drass Ladakh, and found it very soft and tough in quality. Pashmina is the Persian word "pashm" meaning wool. However, the quality of a finished shawl is not solely dependent on the fibre diameter of the wool but also on the craftsmen's skills. Pashmina products are made only in Kashmir and more recently in Nepal where the industry has seen a surge in production.
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In the spring (the moulting season), the goats naturally shed their under fleece, which regrows in winter. This under fleece is collected by combing the goat, not by shearing, as in other fine wools. Unlike other Cashmere goats, the Pashmina goat not only feeds on the grass but also the roots of the grass. The traditional producers of Pashmina Wool in Ladakh region of India are a tribe known as the Changpa. They are a nomadic people and inhabit the Changthang plateau of the Kashmir region, which has a lowest altitude of 13,500 feet above the sea level and the winter temperature drops to -40 degree Celsius. The Changpa rear sheep in these harsh climes for meat and pashmina goats for wool.
The raw Pashmina wool is then transported to the valley of Kashmir in northern India, where it is entirely hand processed. All steps from combing (removing impurities and guard hair, and aligning fibers) and spinning, to weaving and finishing, is entirely carried out by hand by specialized craftsmen and women. The major center of Pashmina fabric production is the old district of Srinagar, capital of Indian Kashmir. The approximate craft time put into producing a single Pashmina stole (70x200cm) is 180 hours.
Pashmina accessories are available in a range of sizes, from "scarf" 12 in × 60 in (0.30 m × 1.52 m) to "wrap" or "stole" 28 in × 80 in (0.71 m × 2.03 m) to full sized shawl 36 in × 80 in (0.91 m × 2.03 m) and in rare cases, "Macho" 12 ft × 12 ft (3.7 m × 3.7 m). Pure pashmina is a rather gauzy, open weave, as the fibre cannot tolerate high tension. The most popular pashmina fabric is a 70% pashmina/30% silk blend, but 50/50 is also common. The 70/30 is tightly woven, has an elegant sheen and drapes nicely, but is still quite soft and light-weight.
They are known for their softness and warmth. A craze for pashminas in the mid-1990s resulted in high demand for pashminas, so demand exceeded supply. When pashmina shawls rose into fashion prominence during the era, they were marketed dubiously. In the consuming markets, pashmina shawls have been redefined as a shawl/wrap with cashmere and cashmere/silk, notwithstanding the actual meaning of pashmina. Some shawls marketed as pashmina shawls contain wool, while other unscrupulous companies marketed the man-made fabrics such as viscose and others as "pashmina" with deceptive marketing statements such as "authentic viscose pashmina".
The word "pashmina" is not a labeling term recognized by law in the United States. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission:
Some manufacturers use the term pashmina to describe an ultra fine cashmere fiber; others use the term to describe a blend of cashmere and silk. The FTC encourages manufacturers and sellers of products described as pashmina to explain to consumers, on a hangtag, for example, what they mean by the term.
As with all other wool products, the fiber content of a shawl, scarf or other item marketed as pashmina must be accurately disclosed. For example, a blend of cashmere and silk might be labeled 50% Cashmere, 50% Silk or 70% Cashmere, 30% Silk, depending upon the actual cashmere and silk content. If the item contains only cashmere, it should be labeled 100% Cashmere or All Cashmere. The label cannot say 100% Pashmina, as pashmina is not a fiber recognized by the Wool Act or regulations.
- Himroo—Himroo fabric is made of both cotton and silk in the Deccan region of India
- Shahmina— Type of shawl made in Kashmir from Pashmina with a fiber diameter of 13 micrometres or less
- Shahtoosh— A fine type of shawl, now illegal, handwoven in Kashmir using the down hair of the endangered Tibetan antelope
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