What is Pashmina?
Pashmina is just the indigenous word for cashmere, which 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).
In recent decades, pashmina has become known internationally as a term applied to the wool, and products made from the wool, derived from the undercoat of the "Cashmere goat" Capra hircus laniger, a breed of Capra hircus (the domestic goat species) that is raised primarily at high elevations in Central Asia, particularly Mongolia. For years this fiber has been used by weavers in Kashmir (hence "cashmere"), a disputed area between Pakistan and India. Due to the ongoing war there, China has been able to dominate pashmina production in the fifteen years or so.
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 almost certainly false. Claims made that pashmina (or, alternatively, the best pashmina) comes only from the throat and belly of the goat are most likely false also.
Shahtoosh ("King fabric") is a term used for a fiber 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 that pashmina.
The following two statements are posted on the Web site of the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers' Institute at www.cashmere.org:
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: email@example.com.
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
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 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 regular wool, cotton, or acrylic.