The finest and the softest of wools, Pashmina has been produced in the valley of Kashmir for centuries. In fact, according to experts, the traces of the first pashmina date back to almost 3rd century BC. But even though the pashmina shawl is famous all around the world, little is know about the origines of this wool. It is actually obtained from a special breed of goats domesticated and raised in the Changthang region of Ladakh: the pashmina goat.
Located at an altitude of over 4000 meters above sea level, Chanthang for centuries has been home to a nomadic group of people known as the ‘Changpa’. Living in the land of high altitude plateaus and giant lakes, these nomads first domesticate the unique pashmina goats as a source of food and even today trade the precious wool in return for basic necessities. Every year each of these goats are raised with care as the nomads brave extreme temperatures and altitudes to take care of them.
Where does the pashmina wool come from?
With temperatures dipping down to nearly -35 degrees Celsius, in order to cope with the freezing weather, the pashmina goats grow an incredibly soft inner coat which is exceptionally warm and lightweight. As the temperature starts to rise in the summer the goats naturally shed their winter undercoat which is then collected by the nomads. Once removed, the finer inner hairs are separated from the thick outer coat. As a result, the final product is an extremely soft, warm and light weight wool that commands the highest prices in the world of textiles.
How is the final pashmina produced?
After the process of collecting the wool, the pashmina in a raw form is traded and sent to the valley of Kashmir. The wool is then stretched and cleaned in fresh spring water before being soaked in rice water to further increase the softness. Since the pashmina goats hair is almost 1/20th the size of a human hair, its is almost impossible to be spun using mechanised looms, unlike other types of cashmere found across the world.
Finally, the transformation from hair to thread takes place using techniques of hand spinning as each strand of hair is put together to form a yarn. This pashmina yarn is then tediously woven by kashmir artisans, using a 600 year old technique of hand weaving on a traditional loom. Each thread is interwoven, one at a time to craft the beautiful Kashmir pashmina shawl.