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Fakes, neglect wearing thin Kashmir's pashmina trade

Sheikh Mushtaq,
Monday, December 29, 2008

CREDIT: Getty Images

They sell for thousands of dollars, grace the shoulders of celebrities and are coveted by women the world over, but the future of the famous pashmina shawl is tangled due to neglect and cheap copies.

For centuries, pashmina shawls have been woven on handlooms from wool handspun from the shaggy coat of a goat which lives in the heights of the Himalayas in Indian Kashmir's Ladakh region.

Thousands of Kashmiris are associated with the ancient trade, with women mostly spinning and men weaving the delicate yarn into warm, soft scarves and shawls which are often embroidered. The name pashmina is derived from the Persian for wool.

But today, hundreds of pashmina weavers in Kashmir have been forced to move to other professions because cheaper, machine-made shawls are decreasing demand.

Business has also been hit by government neglect of a region beset by nearly 20 years of fighting with Muslim separatists, in which more than 47,000 people have been killed.

"Machine-made cheap products and fakes from different parts of India have badly hit pashmina shawls, and in fact all weavers," said 65-year-old Mustafa Qadir, considered by many as one of the best pashmina weavers in Indian Kashmir.

"Our daily wages fell drastically and many of us had to change our business," said Qadir, who now runs a small grocery shop on the outskirts of Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar, which is ringed by snow-covered mountains.


After a global ban on shahtoosh, a wool derived from the hair of an endangered Tibetan antelope, shawls made from pashmina wool are considered the world's finest and are exported worldwide. According to officials, nearly 50,000 pashmina shawls are still woven in Kashmir a year.

Local legend has it that Kashmiri shawls came to Europe after French emperor Napoleon Bonaparte presented one to his wife Josephine more than two centuries ago.

Kashmiri pashminas, with intricate embroidery, can now fetch as much as 500,000 Indian rupees ($10,000) a piece at trendy boutiques and department stores in London or New York.

Plain hand-woven pieces are less expensive at a few hundred dollars, but even these are out of the grasp of most people compared to good quality, machine-made alternatives which are priced at up to 2,500 rupees ($52) each.

"It is difficult to find what is real and what is fake for a customer," said Shakeel Ahmad, a shawl dealer in Srinagar's main market. "Machine-made designs are more trendy, much cheaper and attract customers."

Another problem facing the pashmina industry is lack of proper branding. The name "pashmina" is used indiscriminately by weavers, and can be found on cheap, synthetic-fiber shawls as well as wraps made with a mix of wool and silk fibers.

Many customers do not have the knowledge to differentiate.

"The fake pashmina products have now infiltrated most of the pashmina outlets in and outside Kashmir even abroad," Parvez Ahmad Shah, a prominent Kashmir art dealer, said.

"Even the Kani shawl, which is pride of Kashmir, has a duplicate now," added Shah referring to special type of pashmina painstakingly woven knot by knot on looms with the help of "kanis" or special bobbins.

Earlier this year Indian authorities said they were patenting the pashmina to prevent imitations. "After the government declaring it an intellectual property right, pashmina will bear a definite logo and will help it from fakes," a spokesman said.

But many Kashmiris are skeptical about the government's claims to help out the war-weary region.

"Shahtoosh shawls are nearly extinct, and the fake Indian pashmina has invaded Kashmir now," said Fayaz Punjabi, a wholesale pashmina dealer. "Only God can save it."

© Canwest News Service 2008

Travels with my pashmina

By Annalisa Barbieri
New Statesman 7/9/2007, Vol. 136 Issue 4852, p52-52

The tiny ball that opens up to the size of a small blanket.

When pashminas came into fashion about ten years ago, you'd have thought the world had never heard of a shawl before, which is all that a pashmina actually is. Because I am so contrary, I avoided buying one for ages, as I did not want to seem to be following a trend. By the time I did, they had become very passé, and so I felt safe.

[ More on pashmina in Kashmir ] (Note: this is a pdf file and may download slowly, but it is really worth the few seconds' wait!)

Not for the faint of heart: starving pashmina goats in Ladakh, a Tibetan region of India

Pashmina goats dying of cold

[Hindustan Times, February 07, 2008]

Some 150,000 rare Himalayan goats that provide fine wool for Kashmir's famous Pashmina shawls are facing death because of heavy snow in Changthang, the land of nomads on Indo-Chinese border, this winter.

The goats' pastures, spread over the mountains of the Changthang area of the Ladakh region, have been covered by unusually deep snow and farmers are fast running out of fodder.

Severe chilly conditions have reduced the mortality rate of goat babies to 4 to 5 per cent. The grasslands are covered by snow and the mountain grazing has become impossible.

The government has rushed survey teams and fodder supplies to save the species, which produces expensive wool. "More than 100 quintals of fodder was supplied on Wednesday itself and more is being sent," Minister for Sheep and Animal Husbandry Taj-Mohi-ud-Din said.

"The severe chill has resulted in higher mortality rate this year," confirmed Tsering Punchok, District Animal and Sheep Husbandry officer, Leh.

The problem of fodder shortage is acute in Korzok and Kharnak areas, where nomads rear 36,000 of Pashmina goats.

"We have taken note of the problem. The state government has rushed the fodder from its farms to the nomads rearing the animals in Korzok and other places in Changthang area. More than 100 quintals of fodder has been dispatched," Taj said.

The Animal and Sheep Husbandry department has its own farms in Changthang and Nubra areas in Ladakh.

"It is from there that we have rushed the supplies to help the farmers. We will be sending more as and when required," the minister said. Another 600 quintals of fodder and feed would be sent in the next three days, he added.

"Though it is the duty of the farmers to keep sufficient stocks which lasts the whole winter, in view of the extraordinary situation caused by heavy snowfall, we have responded to the situation," Taj said while taking stock of the situation.

"It is the highest snowfall in decades in Changthang," Deputy Commissioner, Leh, MK Bhandari told the Hindustan Times by phone. Changthang is a cold desert area at the height of 14,600 feet above sea level, it does not experience snowfall because there is hardly any precipitation. “But this time there is more than two feet of snow,” he added.

Ladakh produces 30,000 kg of Pashmina every year and each goat on an average produces 250 grams of the precious wool.

© Copyright 2007 Hindustan Times

Pashmina In Peril

[The Rising Nepal, October 13, 2007]

The country's export trade has been facing a severe crisis since the last couple of years. The volume of export in terms of quantity and commodity, according to statistics provided by the Trade and Export Promotion Center (TEPC), is sliding. The concentration of the export trade to India is on the rise along with a steady decline in third country export.

Recently, the TEPC has identified 14 major new products having huge export potential. Definitely, those products could play a vital role in uplifting the country's economy if they are properly distributed in the major international markets. Out of the 14 items, five of them - including tea and pashmina - have been identified as having unparallel potential. Lack of a proper definition and accreditation, according to a study report, has exposed Nepali pashmina to grave risks of losing the leading European and Japanese markets. Nepali pashmina as of now is supplied in the international market without any brand name or identification, and is often questioned by the customers and importers abroad. But nobody has taken this issue seriously. Japanese and European markets are the major destinations for Nepalese products. They have asked the Nepalese exporters to come up with plausible solutions to protect the country's third largest export. However, exporters accuse the government of remaining silent in this regard.

Nepali pashmina encountered an unpleasant situation in Japan in June this year when it restricted the entry of pashmina products demanding definition and standard certification. And many other countries in Europe including Italy, Spain and UK, according to exporters, are mounting pressure on Nepalese exporters to supply goods with specific brand identification and certification. The entrepreneurs have been holding talks with the concerned government officials, unfortunately things are being delayed for no reason. The entrepreneurs have even sought the involvement of the Nepal Bureau Standards and Metrology to define the quality standard of pashmina and issue quality certification. The bureau has a well-equipped laboratory, but nobody seems to be interested to work on that.

Nepali pashmina entrepreneurs are losing their markets in other countries, including the UK, USA and Canada also. On the one hand, Nepali products abroad lack promotional activities. On the other hand, our private sector is also not proactive in this regard. We really need to make concerted efforts to expedite the export trade. Nepal has many products with good potential, but efforts are needed to market them.



Improve Quality Of Pashmina To Promote Exports: Experts

Nepal Abroad [Year 2. No. 32; Saturday Bhadra 08, 2064 B.S. / August 25, 2007]

Kathmandu Aug 23 [KP] - Lack of quality-standard labels and trademarks have become major impediments while promoting Nepali pashmina internationally, experts and traders said on Wednesday.

Presenting a paper at a program on Export Development of Nepali Pashmina, Murari Prasad Gautam, a member of a study team, said the industry needed proper production technology and well equipped laboratories. “The packaging is also not well finished while the market promotions are not that effective. That is why pashmina has not been able to bring in as much foreign currency as it should,” he said.

Stressing the need to maintain quality of pashmina, Gautam said, “Export of pashmina made from inferior raw materials is the main cause for the slowdown in exports”.

Export of pashmina, which touched US$ 82 million in the 2000/01 fiscal year, came down to US$ 7.46 million in 2006/07.

Biastiaan Bijl, a consultant of International Trade Centre (ITC), said that there were chances of attracting investment, both domestic and foreign, in laboratories to test quality of raw materials, training of pashmina technicians and wool processing, among others. Meanwhile, Shankar Prashad Panday, president of Nepal Pashmina Industries Association sought co-operation from the government in the process of trademark registration and labeling of pashmina.

Restoring Nepal's social fabric

Alok Tumbahangphey [Nepali Times Issue #284, February 9, 2006]

Nepal's pashmina industry is bouncing back with innovation and new markets

Until about five years ago, Nepali pashmina was haute couture among the world's rich and famous. Cashmere was out and people flaunted their pashminas, from Buckingham Palace to Beverly Hills.

In 1997 alone Nepal exported Rs 3 million worth of the fabric, and by 2000 the figure had risen to more than Rs 5.6 billion. The industry employed over 50,000 people and made up at least 82 percent of all handicraft exports from Nepal in 2000-2001 with manufacturers producing everything from scarves, shawls, blankets and mufflers to dressing gowns. It looked like Nepal finally had a global brand name to call its own.

Pashmina making began as a cottage industry, catering mainly to the local market. The few investors who saw its potential had to be patient before profits began to flow. And just as they started earning dividends, the industry realised it had one more lesson to learn; it's not easy doing business in an era of globalisation.

When Nepal’s neighbours saw pashmina’s potential, they brought economies of scale and just copied the product. There was a glut in the market, prices went into freefall. The Chinese had cheaper labour, lower production costs, skilled manpower and most importantly, their own raw material, something that Nepal was actually importing from the northern neighbour.

The Indians for their part used the age-old vanishing trick—importing Nepali pashmina, tinkering with it and then exporting cheaper products with the Nepal label. Low-price Indian and Chinese pashmina items, even fakes, began circulating in international markets, striking at the heart of Nepal’s industry. Unfortunately this was exactly what makers here tried to copy. "Indians totally spoilt the market for us. They had variety, and embroidery skills, which we did not. Maintaining quality in the face of competition was tough," explained Roshan Timilsina of Innoxa Pashmina, whose main markets were Italy, Japan and Korea.

By this time everyone in Nepal wanted a piece of the pashmina pie. A Rastra Bank study shows that the number of registered factories jumped from 25 in 1993 to 959 by 1999. The 70-30 formula (70 percent pashmina and 30 percent silk), which had worked fine till then succumbed to competition and woollen shawls and other items began to be passed off as pashmina.

With the markets tightening, the unregistered factories were the first to go but the long-term businessmen were wounded. Not only did exports nosedive, retail businesses that relied on tourist buyers also suffered. Shopkeepers like Bishnu Dhungel of Lovely Handicrafts in Basantapur today spend the day waiting for the odd tourist to appear. Days of no business are not uncommon. Timilsina closed his factory more than a year ago and now only calls his workers when there are large orders.

But after years of downturn, it looks like the industry is coming out of the slump. The government has promised reforms to help them, like a refund on VAT, duty drawback and bonded warehouses.

People like Pushpa Man Shrestha of Nepal Pashmina Industry, one of the main players in the business for more than two decades, are still hopeful. "The US and Europe still have a soft corner for Nepali pashmina," he says. "It’s a question of survival. The Chinese and the Indians are too large for us to compete with so we have found ways to overcome the challenge." Nepali pashmina-makes are now restricting themselves to shawls but have focused on niche markets of apparel and household items made from the fabric. The other pashmina items are: pillow cases, bedsheets and dressing gowns. Even men are wearing pashmina now in the form of mufflers, vests and sweaters.

The pashmina market is still a money-maker but the private sector alone cannot take on the giant neighbours. Securing a registered trademark for Nepali pashmina and encouraging the production of our own raw material, which is possible considering Nepalis in the north do raise sheep, could be steps to putting pashmina back on the shelves of the world’s boutiques.

Pashmina is made from the soft wool found under the coarse hair of the chyangra or mountain goat. In its raw form pashmina is softer than cotton and as a fabric it is warmer than wool and smoother than silk, thus making it one of the most desirable of fabrics. Pashmina has been used by highland communities like the Thakalis and Gurungs for daily wear since time immemorial. Only in the last two decades did the international fashion discover pashmina.

Powerloom Pashmina Prevail

Business Age [Vol. 2, No. 2: January, 2000 (Poush-Magh)]

The exports of handloom pashmina have declined heavily after powerloom pashmina have begun placing ‘handmade pashmina tags’, says Handloom Pashmina Entrepreneurs Association.

Voicing protest against this trend, the association has demanded the government to make a clear-cut policy to monitor such malpractice in pashmina exports.

"We are not against powerlooms but exporting pashmina with a fake tag is what we are opposing", said Damodar Khadka at a press conference. This trend has not only cheated the customers but has also reduced employment, he said.

Despite the difference in quality in handloom and powerloom pashmina, the machine made pashmina has captured the international market, he said. The main reason, according to Khadka, is that the buyers do not know the main difference between the two products.

"Handmade pashmina has softness whereas powerloom pashmina does not have softness", he informed. Powerloom pashmina manufacturers are very much optimistic about the future of then business. Considering this and to sustain the present boom in pashmina industry, Momento Apparels (P) Ltd. of Nepal and Huhhot Xin Chao Art Co. of China have set up Emperor’s Gold Mount, a joint venture pashmina industry in Bhadrapur with capacity to produce some 600,000 pieces of pashmina per year.

Set up at a total investment of US$ 3 million, it expects to provide employment to over 500 locals of whom 70 percent will be women, company sources say.

This shows that pashmina entrepreneurs are hopeful that the business will not meet the fate of the Nepali carpet industry.

And with a view to ensure the longevity of the pashmina industry, entrepreneurs are also diversifying their products into pashmina trousers, gowns, bags etc., state pashmina entrepreneurs.


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