Pashmina is the most noble cashmere variety.
It is derived from the capra hircus goat's light winter undercoat. It is the finest and softest in the neck and stomach area. This goat only lives under extreme conditions beyond 4500 meters in altitude. It is therefore collected on the footpaths of the Himalayas, especially in Ladakh.
One goat produces about 150g of pashmina per year. In the spring when it loses its winter fur, it is combed in order to gather the fine silkier hair which is longer and of high quality.
While a cashmere fiber has a diameter less than 19 microns, pashmina is thinner : less than 15 microns.
However, it is interesting to note that this definition, according the tradition, has no legal value. Indeed, the pashmina fiber, contrary to cashmere, is not labelled.
The word pashmina comes from the Persian word "pashmînah" which means wool.
The Kashmir Valley population was famous for weaving shawls. The wool came from the winter fleece of goats in Central Asia and the Himalayas, who lived more than 4500 meters above sea level.
Since antiquity cashmere wool is one of the biggest luxury goods transported by road to the Roman Empire. This industry soared in the 16th century during the reign of the Moghole Emperor Akbar which gave him the status of royal patronage, favoring a highly qualitative development.
Mostly worn by men, pashmina shawls where once a privilege and only worn by kings.
In the 18th century Kashmir exported shawls to Europe, first in England and then in France after the Napoleonic campaigns.
Being a great partner, Empress Josephine then started to campaign for the fashionable Kashmir shawl, which then saw an undeniably huge craze throughout the century. Being very expensive, it was a symbol of social distinction and a centerpiece of bridal outfits. It was heavy and richly embroidered.
Forgotten during the 20th century, Pashmina experienced a newfound surge in popularity in the 90s with the new launch of the fashionable garment by Hollywood stars...
Historically this "diamond" wool is synonymous with luxury.
LADAKH : Harvesting pashmina
This pashmina fur is the main source of income for nomadic herders Chang Pa and perpetuates the traditional way of life at 4600m hight, in the highlands of Ladakh, on the border of Tibet. To protect their financial success, the price for their furs was set by the Indian State at 3700 rupees for 2 kg.
The fibers are washed and sorted, then the pashmina fleece is routed to Srinagar in Kashmir valley.
For centuries, the region of Kashmir has acquired unparalleled expertise in weaving pashmina. However, due to political instability, the disorganized productions and sometimes-questionable business practices, this region has been loosing its supremacy compared to the production by their neighbour Nepal. Although Nepal does not possess the same knowledge, it is a more stable and reliable economic partner for importing countries.
Down is first spun by hand using a spinning wheel, it is very delicate work and traditionally done by women.
The resulting yarn is then hand woven on traditional wooden looms using ancestral techniques. One of the most popular woven patterns, and for making the finest shawls, is bird's eye (Bulbul) or the diamond pattern. The wool used is naturally of a brown or cream colour, which allows for simple dyeing.
The shawl is then dyed and can be embroidered. This is long, meticulous and almost mystical work, done exclusively by men that work at a very fast pace. A shawl can also be woven in different colours, with patterned stripes, squares or arabesques directly inserted into the frame.
ORIGINAL AND IMITATIONS
The main difficulty lies in the fact that, unlike Kashmir, pashmina fiber has never been protected by a brand. Bought by a Chinese company, the brand PASHMINA uses labels that do not indicate the composition of the material.
From a legal standpoint, the pashmina is not recognised material. The name 100% Pashmina on labels masks synthetic fibers such as viscose fabric or polyester.
The word Pashmina is so widely used - and legally - to designate a simple fabric with fringes, here are the different materials that you might encounter :
HOW TO RECOGNIZE A REAL PASHMINA
Recognize a synthetic fiber from natural fiber : the test of fire. Remove a string from the material and burn it. If it burns quickly in a large, bright flame, giving off a smell of burnt paper: it is viscose. Other synthetic fibers like polyester will even burst into hard little balls of fire. Silk, wool and Kashmir burn easily, without emitting flames, and release an odor of burnt horns.
Pure authentic pashmina is soft, lightweight, wrinkle-resistant and immediately warm to wear. It is labeled 100% cashmere and will NEVER be cheap.