by Joean “Iman” Montayre

Artisan working on Sozli embroidery on a Pashmina (getty image)

We hear Pashmina a lot but little is known about this famous piece of luxury. Pashmina comes from the Persian word “pashm” which means wool are made from the longer fiber of the soft undercoat of Changthangi goats. People often mistaken “cashmere” shawls to Pashmina as they are made from same material but Cashmeres of Kashmirs are of made the shorter fibers. Only Pashmina collectors and expert curators can tell a pure Pashmina from Cashmeres.

This rectangular cloth, silky and soft, often decorated has a long history unbeknownst to many. The real and pure Pashminas are considered to be collector’s items and could be valued to as much as $5,000 or higher depending on the embroidery style, size and age of the item. The regular authentic Pashminas can cost not less than $350.

Changtangi goat breed (getty image)

The most coveted Pashminas are those with embroidery style called Sozni, an almost extinct art of delicate needle-work embroidery (from the word “sozin” which means needle). It was introduced to the region by Mir Syed AlHamdani or commonly known as Shah Hamdan, in late 14th century by employing 700 Persian artisans to come up with ways to decorate the Pashmina shawls that were produced in the Ladakh region.

Sozni embroidered Pashmina (getty image)

Now, not to confuse with the varying historical data out there. The production or manufacturing of cashmeres and Pashminas were first introduced to Kashmir region by the 8th sultan named Zayn Ul-‘Aabideen, popularly known as Bud Shah which means the Great King. He brought weavers Turkistan to train the locals and eventually turned Kashmir region as the manufacturing hub of Pashmina. First, it was made with plain colors or patterns weaved with the natural colors of the wool such as black, brown, white and beige. Later on, dyeing and embroidery was introduced. The popularity of Pashmina and cashmeres to the royal houses rose when Mughal empire Babur, established the practice of “khillat” or a ceremony giving “robes of honour” as royal favours, or to indicate great achievement, or high service.

The Pashminas are woven by hand until today due to its delicate fibers. First, the fibers that are gathered from the molted hairs of the goats during spring are gathered through combing, cleaned and sorted out. Then they are spun into looms delicately by hand, before they are weaved. The weaving could take at least 6 months to complete.

Woman spunning a wool (Photo by Pashmillon fabrics)

But the art of Pashmina is dying due to the decreasing number of artisans working on this field. Because of its tedious and long and meticulous process, artisans discourage passing the art to the next generation. Some of the skillful ones left for other better- paying jobs because manufacturers are not paying more than 13 rupees or 1 cent a day to maintain the cost of the product. And the most interesting fact is that if a worker quit on a Pashmina, no other worker can take over it because the weaving style, stress, and phase varies from one person to another. Despite this, Pashmina workers are one of the most exploited and underpaid employees in the clothing industry.

Man working on the Pashmina (from Pashmillon fabrics)

To solve this problem, retailers and manufacturers should agree to increase the price of Pashminas. Fashion houses and councils should regulate labour wages and protocols such as abolishing the middle-man and chain of contractors to protect the rights of skilled artisans.

While there are many variations are manufactured elsewhere made with synthetic fibers, there is nothing like a pure Pashmina.

Besides, Pashminas are truly valuable fashion staples which destinations are to the mansions and palaces of royalties. It is made of natural fibers, soft and delicate. It is a symbol of value, rich of culture, history and art.

*****

If you know a direct manufacturer of Pashmina, show your love by letting us know about them so that we can share their work. Let us help them market their products. Let’s help them keep their heritage.

%d bloggers like this: