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Pashmina is a fine type of cashmere wool. The textiles made from it were first woven in Kashmir. The name comes from Persian: پشمینه / pašmina, meaning "made from wool". Pashmina came to be known as 'cashmere' in the West because Europeans first encountered this fibre in Kashmir. The wool comes from a number of different breeds of the cashmere goat; such as the changthangi or Kashmir pashmina goat from the Changthang Plateau in Tibet and part of the Ladakh region, the malra from the Kargil area in the Kashmir region, the chegu from Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayas of northern India, and the chyangara or Nepalese pashmina goat from Nepal. The scientific name for the breed of goats is the "Hircus Blythi Goat". Often shawls called shahmina are made from this material in Kashmir and Nepal; these shawls are hand spun and woven from the very fine cashmere fibre.
Woven shawls in South Asia have been worn as early as the Indus Valley Civilisation. A famous example is the statue of a priest-king found at Mohenjo-Daro, who is draped in a shawl decorated with trefoil patterns.
Woolen shawls made in Kashmir are mentioned in Afghan texts between the 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD. However, the founder of the pashmina industry is traditionally held to be the 15th century ruler of Kashmir, Zayn-ul-Abidin, who introduced weavers from Central Asia. Other sources consider pashmina crafts were introduced by Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani who, as tradition has it, arrived to Kashmir from Persia along with 700 craftsmen.
Pashmina shawls have been worn by the royalty and the elites in the region for centuries. Pashmina blankets were also vital additions to a wealthy women's dowry in India, Pakistan and Nepal. They are a sort of status symbol in these countries. Pashmina crafts were made popular in Kashmir by Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani.
Pashmina is derived from mountain breeds of goat (Capra hircus). One distinct difference between pashmina and generic cashmere is the fibre diameter. Pashmina fibres are finer and thinner (12–15 microns) than generic cashmere fibre (15–19 microns) and therefore ideal for making lightweight apparel like fine scarves. As the fibre diameter is very low, pashmina has to be hand-processed and woven into products such as shawls, scarves, wraps, throws, stoles, etc. However, the quality of a finished shawl is not solely dependent on the fibre diameter of the wool but also on the craftsmen's skills. Pashmina products are often made in Kashmir and Nepal.
Today, however, the word "pashmina" is used indiscriminately, and many scarves made from natural or synthetic fiber are sold under the name "pashmina", creating confusion in the market. The exorbitant price of a real pashmina shawl is due to the amount of expert craftsmanship that goes into creating each shawl and the rarity of the pashmina wool – the wool is used in a Kashmiri pashmina shawl is often sourced from the changthangi breed of goat and this breed constitutes less than 0.1% of global cashmere production.
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In the spring (the moulting season), the goats naturally shed their undercoat, which regrows in winter. This undercoat is collected by combing the goat, not by shearing, as in other fine wools. A traditional producer of pashmina wool in the Ladakh region of the Himalayas are a people known as the Changpa. These are a nomadic people and inhabit the Changthang plateau of Tibet, which has a lowest altitude of 13,500 feet above sea level and a winter temperature which can drop to −40 degree Celsius. The Changpa rear sheep in these harsh climates for meat, and pashmina goats for wool.
Raw pashmina is exported to Kashmir. All steps from combing (removing impurities and guard hair, and aligning fibres) and spinning, to weaving and finishing, are traditionally carried out by hand by specialized craftsmen and women. The major centre of pashmina fabric production is in the old district of the city of Srinagar. The approximate time put into producing a single traditional pashmina stole (70x200cm) is 180 hours.
China accounts for 70% of the world cashmere production, Mongolia 20%, the remaining 10% of production is in Afghanistan, Australia, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, United States, the Central Asian republics and elsewhere. Only a small percentage of this production is the ultra-fine cashmere known as pashmina.
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Pashmina accessories are known for their softness and warmth. They are available in a range of sizes, from "scarf" 12 in × 60 in (0.30 m × 1.52 m) to "wrap" or "stole" 28 in × 80 in (0.71 m × 2.03 m) to full sized shawl 36 in × 80 in (0.91 m × 2.03 m) and in rare cases, "macho" 12 ft × 12 ft (3.7 m × 3.7 m). Pure pashmina is a rather gauzy, open weave, as the fibre cannot tolerate high tension. The most popular pashmina fabric is a 70% pashmina/30% silk blend, but 50/50 is also common. The 70/30 is tightly woven, has an elegant sheen and drapes nicely, but is still quite soft and light-weight.
A craze for pashmina shawls, known as shahmina in Kashmir, in the mid-1990s resulted in high demand for the raw material, so demand exceeded supply. When these shawls rose into fashion prominence during the era, they were marketed dubiously. In the consumer markets, pashmina shawls have been redefined as a shawl/wrap with cashmere and cashmere/silk, notwithstanding the actual meaning of pashmina. Some shawls marketed as pashmina shawls contain (sheep) wool, while other unscrupulous companies marketed artificial fabrics such as viscose and others as "pashmina" with deceptive marketing statements such as "authentic viscose pashmina".
The word "pashmina" is not a labelling term recognized by law in the United States, where it is considered another term for cashmere. According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission:
Some manufacturers use the term pashmina to describe an ultra fine cashmere fiber; others use the term to describe a blend of cashmere and silk. The FTC encourages manufacturers and sellers of products described as pashmina to explain to consumers, on a hangtag, for example, what they mean by the term.
As with all other wool products, the fiber content of a shawl, scarf or other item marketed as pashmina must be accurately disclosed. For example, a blend of cashmere and silk might be labeled 50% Cashmere, 50% Silk or 70% Cashmere, 30% Silk, depending upon the actual cashmere and silk content. If the item contains only cashmere, it should be labeled 100% Pashmina or All Cashmere, by the Wool Act or regulations.
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Note this work uses the word pashmina to refer to cashmere in general.
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