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Pashmina refers to a type of fine cashmere wool and the textiles made from it and were first woven in India. The name comes from Pashmineh (پشمینه), Persian for "made from "Pashm" (meaning "wool" in Persian). The wool comes from changthangi or Pashmina goat, which is a special breed of goat indigenous to high altitudes of the Himalayas in India, Nepal and Pakistan. Pashmina shawls are hand spun, woven and embroidered in Nepal and Kashmir, and made from fine cashmere fibre.
The fibre is also known as pashm or pashmina for its use in the handmade shawls of the Himalayas. The 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 cashmere wool industry is traditionally held to be the 15th century ruler of Kashmir, Zayn-ul-Abidin, who introduced weavers from Central Asia.
Cashmere shawls have been manufactured in Nepal and Kashmir for thousands of years. The test for a quality pashmina is warmth and feel. Pashmina and Cashmere are derived from mountain sheep. One distinct difference between Pashmina and Cashmere is the fibre diameter. Pashmina fibres are finer and thinner than cashmere fibre, therefore, it is ideal for making light weight apparel like fine scarves. Today, however, the word PASHMINA has been used too liberally and many scarves made from natural or synthetic fiber are sold as Pashmina creating confusion in the market.
Some people believe Pashmina from Nepal are the best in quality because of the conditions to which the mountain goats have adapted over centuries. The high Himalayas of Nepal have a harsh, cold climate and in order to survive, the mountain goats have developed exceptionally warm and light fiber which may be slightly coarser and warmer than cashmere fibers obtained from lower region goats. Nepali pashmina is called Chyangra Pashmina. Ladakh pashmina is also similar to the Nepali pashmina as the Ladakhi pashmina is produced in similar high altitudes of chanthan on the India\China border at Kashmir. There we find very cold temperatures, and the climate is very supportive to the pashmina-producing types of goat. To survive the freezing environment at 14,000 feet altitude, it grows a unique, incredibly soft pashm (inner coat) six times finer than human hair. Because it is only 14-19 microns in diameter, it cannot be spun by machines, so the wool is hand-woven into cashmere products including shawls, scarves, wraps, throws, stoles etc. for export worldwide. Pashmina is the name given to it as Iranians came to Kashmir via the routes of Drass Ladakh, and found it very soft and tough in quality. Pashmina is the Persian word "pashm" meaning wool, so some people compare the Ladakhi pashmina with original Nepali pashmina. Nepali Original pashmina and Kashmir pashmina have been famous for centuries due to quality and products like plain pashmina, woven jamawars, embroidered pashmina. Nepali Original pashmina came to highlight after a pashmina shawl was worn by Diana, Princess of Wales.
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In the spring (the moulting season), the goats shed the inner wool, which regrows in winter. The inner wool is collected and spun to produce cashmere. Today, the quality of the cashmere produced in the Gobi Desert is often higher than that produced in the Himalayas, due to a more consistent manufacturing process and increased modernization of the Chinese. To reduce the cost and increase their competitive advantage, farmers sell their cashmere below the cost price, which does not include the environmental damage caused by millions of cashmere goats. Unlike sheep, the cashmere goat not only feeds on the grass but also the roots of the grass. This desert forming is also responsible for the yearly sandstorm in China's capital Beijing.
The traditional producers of Pashmina Wool in Ladakh region of India are a tribe known as the Changpa. They are from a region known as the Changthang region, which has a lowest altitude of 13,500 feet above the sea level and the winter temperature drops to -35 degree Celsius. The Changpa rear sheep in these harsh climes and lead a nomadic life to produce Pashmina wool.
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Pashmina accessories 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.
They are known for their softness and warmth. A craze for pashminas in the mid-1990s resulted in high demand for pashminas, so demand exceeded supply. When pashmina shawls rose into fashion prominence during the era, they were marketed dubiously. Cashmere used for pashmina shawls was claimed to be of a superior quality, which was in truth due to the enhanced sheen and softness that the fabric (cashmere blended with silk) had. In the consuming markets, pashmina shawls were redefined as a shawl/wrap with cashmere and silk, notwithstanding the actual meaning of pashmina. Some shawls marketed as pashmina shawls contain wool, while other unscrupulous companies marketed the man-made fabric viscose as "pashmina" with deceptive marketing statements such as "authentic viscose pashmina".
The word "pashmina" is not a labeling term recognized by law in the United States. 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% Cashmere or All Cashmere. The label cannot say 100% Pashmina, as pashmina is not a fiber recognized by the Wool Act or regulations.
It is difficult to assess total imports in Ladakh, because annually some imports are exported to neighbouring countries.