Shahtoosh shawls are so fine and light they can be passed through a wedding ring and are warm enough to hatch a pigeon egg. Its name was given by the Mughal Emperors and it means “king of wools” in Persian. Worth its weight in gold several times over, the trade on these shawls is illegal and there is a sad reality behind this ban.
It is made of the exceptionally fine underfur of the Tibetan antelope or chiru, which insulates this rare animal against the harsh climate of the Tibetan plateau. Over the course of history, there have been several speculations about the origins of this luxurious wool. The fibers were said to be collected from hair shed or rubbed against bushes after the winter, some traders also claimed they came from the fictitious “toosh” bird. But the reality is that the antelope must be killed for the fur to be collected, and it takes around 4 chiru to make a single shawl.
Woven by highly skilled Kashmiri artisans, Shahtoosh shawls are a status symbol in India and Pakistan and one of the most valuable dowry gifts a person can give. However, processing or wearing shahtoosh is a punishable offence in these countries and anyone selling them face prison sentences of up to two years and fine of up to Rs1m (€7,000). International trade in the Tibetan antelope is also banned under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
According to Wold Wildlife Fund (WWF), the population of chiru is estimated to have declined by more than 50% during the last 20 years of the 20th century. The chiru once ranged across the whole Tibetan Plateau, but is now absent from all or most of the eastern plateau, the main stronghold of the species is in the remote Chang Tang area of north-western Tibet. As shown in this documentary, international ban on Shahtoosh was critical for the survival of this endangered species.
Shatoosh should not be confused with pashmina! The fine, lightweight fleece of which our best shawls are made is combed out of the live pashmina goat. At Kashmir Shawl Atelier, we are against inhuman practises and special care is taken to ensure that no harm is done to any animal during the production of our shawls.
How can you help?
- Don’t buy it! Although it is illegal, it is still possible to buy shahtoosh. Purchases fuel demand and lead to more hunting.
- Spread the word! Share this information with others via email or a social network service.