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What is Pashmina?

A Miracle of Nature
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One of the finest natural materials on the planet, pure pashmina is unique in both its look and feel. Behind its luxurious warmth is a story rich with history. The extraordinary skills required to source and weave pashmina have been passed down over centuries, from generation to generation. Few people know that Cashmere or Pashmina originated in the region of Cashmere (otherwise known as Kashmir) in the Himalaya Mountains. Pashmina comes from the remote Himalayan region of Changthang. Its source is the downy, winter undercoat of the Changthangi goat (capra hircus).

The local Changpa community, who rear the goats on the barren, mountainous slopes, say that as ‘the day shortens, the wool of the Changthangi grows finer’. A beautiful but hardy animal with distinctive twisted horns, they graze under open skies and many travelogues will capture them dotting meadows and foothills, their mostly white coats contrasting with their rocky surroundings. This unique Himalayan biotope also supports other endangered species like snow leopards and black-necked cranes.

Ancient Rhythms of Life
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The local Changpa community has reared Changthangi goats, along with yak and sheep, for centuries. The Changpas are nomadic pastoralists. Academic accounts, state that they migrated from Tibet in the 8th century AD crossing the Himalayas to reach the Changthang region in India, which is a western extension of the Tibetan Plateau. The Changpas share a strong bond with their animals and their lives are governed by an ancient rhythm that aligns with the life-stages of the goats. For example, extreme cold is thought to be an essential element for triggering the growth of the Changthangi’s coats. In fact the Changpas have a saying that ‘as the days grow shorter, the wool of the Changthangi grows longer’. Unlike other nomadic tribes, in the region, therefore, the Changpas do not descend to kinder climes in the winter. Instead, the guardians of the Changthangi trace the migratory routes of their ancestors, grazing their herds in pastures at heights more than 4,500 metres. The wrinkled, tanned faces of the tribesmen and women reflect the harsh lives they live. Men are typically dressed in heavy jackets with layer upon layer of sheepskin while women wear thick felt coats. Their silver jewelry and headwear is brightly adorned with mountain coral and turqouise Himalayan lapis.

Each Changthangi goat harvests roughly 120 grams of raw fibre. Of that, only 70 grams is fine enough to be spun into pashmina yarn. Goats shed their coats naturally in spring and the fibres are gathered not through shearing but through combing, a vastly more time-consuming process. The goats are not harmed in any way, as this is a natural cycle of moulting. The raw pashmina wool is then transported from the high mountains to the valley of Kashmir, where it is sorted and hand processed.

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The local Changpa community, who rear the goats on the barren, mountainous slopes, say that as ‘the day shortens, the wool of the Changthangi grows finer’.

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Pashmina fibres are typically 12-15 microns in thickness, which is roughly one-sixth the thickness of a human hair. The threads are so delicate that they will break if machine-woven. Skilled artisans carry out the entire process of spinning, weaving, dying, embroidering and finishing the fabric. It takes 15-30 days to create a length of plain pashmina. When the fabric is embroidered or loom-woven, it can take up to 5 years to create an intricately worked shawl.

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