The Truth about Pashmina. (It's cashmere.)
Pashmina is just the indigenous word for cashmere used throughout the Himalayan region. Cashmere is a term applied by European colonialists to a fabric that was known primarily as a product of Kashmir, the disputed territory in northwest India. The word derives from pashm, an ancient Persian word that was apparently used for any weavable fiber (including sheep wool, shahtoosh, and cotton).
- 20 Myths about pashmina
- Legalities of pashmina labeling
- How pashminas are made
- What's a shawl?
In recent decades, pashmina has become known internationally as a term applied to the wool, and products made from the wool, that is derived from the undercoat of the "Cashmere goat," any of various breeds sometimes referred to as Capra hircus laniger (wool-bearing domestic goat). These breeds are raised primarily at high elevations in Central Asia, particularly Mongolia. Due to the ongoing war in Kashmir, and with the die-off of goat herds in Ladakh due to blizzards, China has been able to dominate pashmina production in past couple of decades.
There is a lot of misinformation (or disinformation) about pashmina online. This may be due to the lack of scientific research, and/or to the fact that most production is in out-of-the-way places that are never visited by the staff of pashmina shawl manufacturers or exporters. Claims made about the relative fineness of cashmere and pashmina are false. Claims made that pashmina (or, alternatively, the best pashmina) comes only from the throat and belly of the goat are also false.
Shahtoosh (Persian for "King fabric") is a term used for a fiber and fabric derived from the undercoat of an endangered Tibetan antelope, the chiru, and is illegal in most Western countries, but easily obtainable in India. It is much more expensive than pashmina. And did we mention that it is illegal?
20 Myths about pashmina
- Myth #1: Pashmina is different from, and better than, cashmere.
- Briefly, pashmina is cashmere, which is the fiber or fabric woven from fiber deriving from the undercoat of certain high-elevation (and therefore long-haired) breeds of domestic goat.
- Myth #2: Pashmina is produced only by a special goat known as Capra hircus.
- Capra hircus is just the scientific name for domesticated goats in general. The caprids are those animals belonging to the goat and antelope genus. Wiktionary gives three meanings for hircus: 1) a buck, male goat; 2) (by extension) the rank smell of the armpits; 3) (figuratively) a filthy person. Cashmere goat breeds have been referred to as Capra hircus laniger (laniger means wool-bearing), but this is not an accepted scientific grouping.
- Myth #3: Pashmina is produced only in the high Himalayas.
- There are many goat breeds with fine undercoats, and they are raised in China, Mongolia, Australia, the United States, India (particularly Ladakh), and elsewhere. The huge preponderance of cashmere yarn fabric now comes from China.
- Myth #4: Pashmina wool is plucked only from the undercoat of the throat and chest of the animal.
- Just not true. The undercoat extends around the whole animal, more or less, and none of it is intentionally wasted.
- Myth #5: Real pashmina is produced only in Kashmir.
- Kashmir (in India) has prevailed in an epic trade dispute with the result that the word "pashmina" is considered to belong to Kashmiri cashmere producers. Nepal had to settle for "chyangra pashmina," which means "goat cashmere." Potato, potahto.
- Myth #6: A fullsize pashmina is too big for a petite woman.
- Pashmina shawls are customarily quite large. The usual fullsize is 95 X 203 cm (36" x 80"). But even Asian women, who are typically rather small, wear fullsize shawls quite comfortably; because of the light weight of the fabric, the shawls can easily be folded lengthwise and/or widthwise, so that the generous dimensions are never a liability. What we call "medium-size" is not much smaller: the same length, and only 20 cm (8") narrower.
- Myth #7: In pashmina, more plies is better.
- Threads can be twisted together to make thicker threads, which can then producer thicker fabrics. On the other hand, there is no need to twist threads together, when the individual thread can be made any desired thickness. Furthermore, fabrics can be made more dense by packing the threads closer together (i.e., using four paddles instead of two). These days very few shawl producers in Kathmandu are using true double-ply yarn. In fact, multiple-ply yarn is now used almost exclusively for knitted goods. One further remark: in pashmina shawls, more is not better. If it were, you guys would be wearing bed-spreads or horse-blankets, rather than shawls. The modern pashmina shawl has evolved to meet women's need for a warm AND light wrap. The paddle-adjusted shawl may be a shade less dense than a double-ply, but it has undoubtedly achieved its international success due to the fact that it so successfully achieves the desired balance of warmth and weight.
- Myth #8: Water pashmina is a special, highly luxurious, type of pashmina.
- That shimmery look can come from anything but pashmina, which has a dull matte finish. Usually it's from some synthetic derived from petrochemicals. Yuck.
- Myth #9: True Nepalese pashmina, known as chyangra pashmina, is different and better than ordinary pashmina.
- No. It's the same as pashmina, or cashmere. Kashmiri interests lobbied successfully for the "pashmina" trademark, and in 2011 the Nepalese production group settled for "chyangra pashmina." With no laboratory capable of monitoring quality anywhere in the region, the entire issue is bogus.
- Myth #10: Pashmina should only be drycleaned.
- Drycleaning can be tough on delicate fabrics. Best bet: hand wash in mild soap. See How to Wash Pashmina.
- Myth #11: In pashmina, as in all luxury goods, you get what you pay for.
- Au contraire. You pay mostly for the brand name, and the advertising that props it up. Pashmina yarn is not cheap, and you can be sure that anything you get for ten dollars outside of Port Authority bus terminal in NYC is synthetic. Likewise, all those cheap e-Bay and Amazon pashminas. Our stuff isn't the cheapest on the market, and some of the cheaper stuff may be just as good (not better). We try to give our producers a fair return on their labor and their capital, and we're trying not to go broke ourselves. If we do get rich (unlikely!) we'd like it to be because of our volume, not our profit margin.
- Myth #12: Real pashmina must have twisted and knotted tassels.
- Not true. In fact, the ragged look ("eyelash fringe") is gaining in popularity, and probably more authentic, historically.
- Myth #13: Machine-loomed pashmina is superior to hand-loomed pashmina.
- Machines can produce straighter lines, and fewer "mistakes." But the warp threads have to be strung at a lower tension in order to prevent disruptive breaks, yielding a looser fabric. Also, as with carpets, the soulless machine-made version of the traditional pashmina shawl is considered inauthentic. Does authenticity matter?
- Myth #14: Hand-loomed pashmina is superior to machine-loomed pashmina.
- Depends on the skill of the weaver. Weaving pashmina is a skill that takes some time to perfect. Quality control is key. If a producer is just trying to increase output, the quality is going to reflect that.
- Myth #15: High-quality pashmina doesn't pill.
- Those little bugger-size balls are caused by abrasion (rubbing). If you wear your pash under a heavy coat, you're probably going to get pill issues.
- Myth #16: The best quality pashmina is fluffy like a kitten.
- No. Pashmina gets softer with use. Producers recognize that Westerners doen't understand this, so they use chemical softeners and some of them brush the pashmina to make it fluffy. Brushing weakens the fabric.
- Myth #17: The best quality pashmina at the best price is found in Kathmandu.
- You might find a good deal, but the competition among pash dealers is intense, and the result is a race to the bottom. Most of the stuff is mediocre quality, adulterate, mislabeled, and overpriced. Sorry. You really need to know the product, or at least know someone who does.
- Myth #18: Ritzy New York department stores can be trusted to have the best quality pashmina.
- Nah. They need quantity and consistency. The only way they can do that is with machine looms. So they get regular-looking fabric, but it's never the best.
- Myth #19: 100% pashmina means pure pashmina.
- American import standards (never enforced!) allowed about 3% impurities. Chinese manufactures admit a similar rate of adulteration, and cheating is rampant. Can you feel the 5% sheep wool content? Probably not. But you can see the stiff guard hairs and straw in some fabric.
- Myth #20: A sewn-on tag is proof of pashmina quality.
- Yeah, right!
The following two statements are posted on the Web site of the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers' Institute at www.cashmere.org:
The Legalities of Pashmina Labeling
The Cashmere & Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute (CCMI) has noted the increased prevalence of shawls and other products bearing the name "Pashmina." The Institute has also received a number of inquiries from consumers, retailers and the media about "pashmina" and the use of the term. We are therefore issuing this clarifying statement:
Use of the term "Pashmina" in marketing is inherently ambiguous and therefore misleading. Pashmina is a term which is derived from an Indian word used to describe cashmere in India and Nepal. Pashmina is not necessarily finer than other types of cashmere, nor does it have any distinguishing characteristics other than those normally associated with cashmere coming from China, Mongolia, Iran or Afganistan. In its current usage, this is marketing terminology intended apparently to capitalize on a fad for shawls of a type traditionally associated with India and Nepal.
The word pashmina itself is not a legally recognizable term for describing fiber content in European or American law. If a textile product contains cashmere, the fiber content must be designated "cashmere" on required labeling. "Pashmina" cannot be used on textile product labeling in the absence of the legally required terminology.
Recently the term pashmina has been used to market a range of products from 100% cashmere to blends of cashmere and silk. The term "pashmina" does not refer to cashmere and silk. Textile products composed of blends of cashmere and silk fibers must be labeled with the appropriate percentages of cashmere and silk and designated as such according to textile and Customs labeling regulations.
Because there is no consistently understood definition of the term "pashmina," CCMI regards the use of the term in signage or promotional literature for cashmere and silk blends, to be misleading. Pashmina is not a descriptive, generic term. CCMI considers the use of the term "pashmina" on required garment labels and in the absence of the appropriate designation "cashmere" to be in violation of labeling regulations and to be misleading to the consumer. The Institute will take action against such mislabeling.
CCMI has informed the United States Federal Trade Commission, the US Customs Service and corresponding authorities in the European Community of its position on the use of the term pashmina without proper fiber identification and has asked for appropriate enforcement of the labeling laws at retail and at ports of entry.
Further questions or concerns may be addressed to me directly at telephone +(617) 542-7481, by facsimile +(617) 542-2199 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cashmere And Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute
[We at Sunrise Pashmina appreciate the concern of CCHMI, but we believe that pashmina is a more legitimate term than cashmere, which reflects colonialist assumptions and has no basis in indigenous usage.]
Shatoosh ... Not
As the foremost international organization of cashmere processors, the Cashmere & Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute would like to clarify that the mission of the Institute is to promote the use of genuine cashmere and camel hair products and to protect the interests of manufacturers, retailers and consumers of these products.
Above and below: endangered chiru antelope
The term, "Pashmina" and "Cashmere" are synonymous for soft, fine, high-quality fiber. The ancient name of the precious shawls still made by hand in the Central Asian regions is called "Pashmina." "Cashmere" is the internationally accepted term for the fiber content designation on labeling cashmere products and goods. Pashmina is accepted as a marketing term but is not recognized as a fiber designation under the Wool Products Labeling Act of the Federal Trade Commission. (Please see our web site for further details on the cashmere goat, Wool Products Labeling Act and the Federal Trade Commission or contact CCMI).
Cashmere fibers are removed from live goats÷the animals are not harmed nor are they slaughtered. The herders live in communion with their goats; although it is a difficult life for the herders and goats living in the frigid Mongolian winter months, the lives of the herders and animals are respected. "Shatoosh" is not cashmere or pashmina.
The term, "Shatoosh" describes the fine hair from the Tibetan antelope or chiru, which is being slaughtered for this hair and is traded illegally under Chinese and international law.
It is illegal to import or trade Shatoosh in the United States. Retailers and testing laboratories worldwide are encouraged to contact their countries customs department should they come across shatoosh products.
For further information about shatoosh you are advised to contact the Tibetan Plateau Project, www.earthisland.org/tpp.
Cashmere And Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute
What is a pashmina shawl?
The following notes are drawn from an account of Kashmiri shawl production in Anamika Pathak's Pashmina. Our understanding is that methods are similar in Nepal.
- The primary source of wool is the domesticated goat Capra hircus. This wool is called pashm.
- The word shahtoosh derives from shah (king) and tus (wool), and refers to the highest quality fabric, which was reserved only for royalty. Although historically (and perhaps currently) other wild species are used as well, shahtoosh wool is derived primarily from the endangered Tibetan antelope (Pantholops hodgsonii), more commonly known by the Tibetan name chiru. It is illegal in most countries.
- The domesticated shawl goats have an outer coat composed of short and relatively brittel guard hairs, and a softer inner coat. The best quality fiber comes from the area under the neck and belly.
- The goat is sheared once a year, at the beginning of the summer. A knife is used rather than scissors, because the scissors allow the inner and outer layers of fleece mix. A knife is used to remove the outer coat first, and then the inner fleece is combed toward the head and carefully cut off.
- Despite the care and skill of shearers, there is always some outer hair mixed into the finer fleece, and this has to be removed by hand.
- The raw wool is sorted according to quality and fiber length. Individual hairs may be as long as 40 cm (16").
- The sorted fibers are washed with plain water to get rid of dust and plant matter. Soap is not used, as it makes the wool harsher.
- The cleaned wool is teased between two wooden combs to loosen and separate tangled fibers.
- Prior to spinning, the cleaned wool is spread out and rubbed with a paste of pounded rice and water. Once dried and teased again, the toughened wool is ready for spinning into yarn.
- Two qualities of thread were spun. The warp thread, which is subject to more tension than the weft, is prepared with a greater number of twists. The weft thread is less intensively twisted, so that it retains a fluffier texture.
The process outlined here is summarized from Pashmina by Anamika Pathak. Pathak describes the traditional preparation of Kashmiri pashmina, and we cannot be certain how similar it is to the production of pashmina yarn used in Nepal, which is imported from China.
About the word shawl...
The word shawl is derived from the Indo-Persian word shal, which meant a fine woven woolen fabric used as a drape. The Italian traveler Pietro della Valle, in 1623, observed that whereas in Persia the scial or shawl was worn as a girdle, in India it was more usually carried 'acrosss the shoulders'. The shal, shawl or do-shalla (the Hindi term for shawl) has a long history. Although its origins are popularly traced to the medieval period, archaeological findings, ancient literary references, and travellers' accounts provide ample evidence of the existence of the woollen tradition in India right from the Indus Civilization (2700-2000 B.C.)
[Source: Pashmina by Anamika Pathak]
In the photo above, a street merchant sells "pashmina" shawls in the
Asan Tole bazaar of Kathmandu.
Most of his shawls are actually made from sheep's wool, cotton, or acrylic.
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