The origin of cashmere dates back to the ancient civilization. Those days it was renowned as the” Fiber for Royals & Emperors”. The ancient tradition of Pashmina started with the Mughals, rulers who came down from Persia and invaded India in the 16th century), and encouraged the artisans in the Indian province of Kashmir to use the wool and other fiber to weave shawls. The name ‘Pashmina’ is derived from the Persian word for wool. This art of weaving technique flourished in Kashmir Valley and continued when the British invaded India and the art got further commercialized.
In Nepal where it was soon discovered that cashmere from Changra goats living in the high mountains of Nepal produced some unique and wonderful quality cashmere wool due to the climate, feed and local breed. This wool when weaved with the Kashmiri weaving technique gave birth to what is today known as “Nepali Pashmina” or Cashmere Pashmina in the Western fashion world. Most of the weavers in nepal weave using the same Persian technique as most of the weavers are migrated from these areas and work as master artisans who engage in training other local artisans in Nepal.
Changra Pashmina is ultra-fine cashmere, harvested from the underbelly and under the chin of the Himalayan Mountain Goat, locally called “Chyangra”, which lives at the altitude above 3000 meters in the most remote regions of Nepal. Inhabiting in the freezing cold climate these hardy goats, otherwise known as Capra Hircus, produces some of the warmest fibers that is used to make Cashmere Pashminas. Pashmina fibers are obtained from combing and collecting naturally shed wool from these goats. The delicate Fur combing process is performed every spring from the same goat for many years without harming the goats. The collected fur is then spun into fine yarn which is woven to make extraordinarily soft and warm Pashmina products like baby blankets, shawls, stoles, scarves as well as pullovers, cardigans, etc. The lighter the hair, the softer is the fiber. Some Pashmina even feel lighter because silk has been woven in. The outer layer fibers of “Chyangra” are discarded as they are comparatively thicker & coarser. Thus only the inner layer fibers measuring fewer than 16.5 microns are qualified for use as “Cashmere”. Exquisite art of spinning and weaving in Nepal has been passed on from one generation to another and to the present times where the art has taken a modern adaptation for color, texture and design and at the same retain all the original good quality and wonderful and unique properties. Pashmina is the softest, exotically delicate, weightless and the finest natural insulating fiber of the world. With proper care both pure Pashmina and silk Pashmina shawls and blankets will retain its beauty and warmth for many years. Because of these unique and wonderful properties, “Pashmina Fiber” is considered a “Diamond Fiber”.
In ancient times “Pashmina” was used in unblended form but later combinations with silk, cotton etc., came in practice. In due course of time and after long years of experience and experiments, Pashmina yarn and silk yarn were combined to make a stronger fiber, increase durability suppleness and strength, color and finish. Lately Pashmina blended with silk fibers is gaining a lot of popularity. When blended with silk fibers, the resulting fabric, usually referred to as silk Pashmina or silk cashmere, is durable, soft and luxurious. Today, Pashmina shawls are woven on handlooms by traditional weavers in Nepal’s Kathmandu Valley with the fibers collected from the mountainous and Himalayan regions through cooperative system of collection. And most are woven on a warp of spun silk for increased suppleness and strength. Because of these extraordinary qualities of cashmere fiber, it has evolved into unique types of wraps and blanket offering utmost comfort, warmth & Style. A larger facility in Kathmandu valley processes the weaving and finishing of cashmere products. Collection from small individual families and household in the mountains is coordinated through a regional collection center.Small cottage industries and weavers make products out of the wool thus collected.
A study report of the International Trade Center, a subsidiary of the World Trade Organization, shows that there are around 300,000 chyangras being reared in the high regions including Mustang, Humla, Mugu and Dolpa districts. As per the study, 55,000 chyangras are being raised in Mustang district alone. An estimated 8 tonnes of pashmina wool can be produced out of them annually. Some rural development programs in Nepal have been supporting chyangra and yak farming and are keen on supporting the supply chain. According to the Nepal Pashmina Industries Association (NPIA), the program supports the supply side of Pashmina yarn through goat farming in the high hill areas which provides income to small farmers to help with other basic needs like clothes and books.
How is cashmere different from lamb’s wool or any other wool? Not only the method of collection of cashmere differs from wool, cashmere or pashmina differs quiet significantly from wool in terms of composition and quality. There is a very gentle combing process involved in collecting cashmere compared to how wool is collected. Some people having seen or heard some horror stories of shearing wool from sheep that may make them apprehensive about buying cashmere. Understanding some of the collection process will help chase away the fear and to know that these beautiful goats are raised and prized for their warm fur that they naturally shed during the spring season to grow new ones.
Why is Cashmere so expensive? The industry requires hard labor and skills, with the wool sorted by hand and then painstakingly spun, woven and dyed. The goats found at high altitude in the Himalayas, are combed just once a year, in spring, with each goat producing only 100 grams or less of usable wool. It takes the wool of three goats to make one pure pashmina scarf, yet the wool is so fine that the scarf is almost weightless.
Cashmere vs Kashmir? Cashmere and Kashmir are two terms that mean two different things today. They may be pronounced in the same fashion but are spelled differently. Cashmere refers to a type of wool that is very fine and and soft. Cashmere wool comes from the cashmere goat. The wool is taken from the neck of cashmere goats, and is three times more insular than sheep’s wool. Kashmir is an area that is on the northern border of India and the Northeast border of Pakistan. Hotly disputed since the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan, Kashmir is now divided between India and Pakistan.