Traders of Pashmina shawls are complaining that “obsolete testing methods” have resulted in many of their export consignments being flagged by Customs authorities for presence of Shahtoosh guard hair, which is obtained from endangered Tibetan antelopes. The traders claim the use of obsolete techniques such as “light microscopy” by the authorities has resulted in several cases of “false positives”, leading to their wrongful prosecution.
About ‘Pashmina’ and ‘Shahtoosh’ –
- Pashmina refers to a fine variant of spun cashmere (the animal-hair fibre), that is derived from the downy undercoat of the Changthangi.
- Pashmina is obtained from a breed of mountain goats (Capra hircus) found on the Changthang Plateau in Tibet and parts of Ladakh.
- Shahtoosh, on the other hand, is the fine undercoat fibre obtained from the Tibetan antelope, known locally as chiru, a species living mainly in the northern parts of the Changthang Plateau in Tibet.
- As they offer high levels of smoothness and warmth, Shahtoosh shawls is a highly expensive commodity.
- However, when their population declined dramatically from commercial poaching, CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna & Flora) listed the Tibetan antelope in 1979, leading to a ban on sale and trade of Shahtoosh shawls and scarves.
- In today’s terminology, pashmina can refer to either the material or a particular type of Kashmir shawl made from it.
- Geographical Indication (GI) label on Kashmir Pashmina – The original ‘Kashmir Pashmina’ fabric and its products were given GI tag (by the Government of India, under the 1999 Act), in order to preserve the centuries old art of spinning and weaving fabric.
Production of Pashmina shawls –
- In the spring, 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 are a people known as the Changpa (nomadic people inhabit the Changthang plateau of Tibet).
- China accounts for 70% of the world’s cashmere production (followed by Mongolia (20%) and the remaining by others like Afghanistan, Australia, India, Iran, etc).
- India contributes only about 1% of the world’s Pashmina, but the Pashmina produced in India is considered the best of the lot.