Blue, Black and Pink Paisley "100% Pashmina" Pasmina
“100% Pashmina” Pashmina

I bought a lovely shawl not long ago. It was labelled “100% Pashmina”, but I knew when I bought it that it was not “pashmina”.

“Pashmina” is a very fine type of cashmere wool which comes only from the chyangrya goats that live in the cold Himalayan climate of Nepal. The fibre comes from the goat’s underbelly; it is very fine and must be combed off during the Spring moult. This fineness means that it cannot be machine processed and that it must be washed and woven entirely by hand. The tiny amount of wool, obtainable only during a particular time of year makes it expensive. And when you add in the cost of hand production by skilled craftsman, you can see that a $19.95 “pashmina” cannot possibly be the real thing.

Another thing to note is that while “Cashmere” is a term protected by international treaty,  appellation and regulation (similar to “champagne” or “Parmigiana-Reggiano” and “Jamón serrano”) “Pashmina” is not. When you buy champagne, you are 100% guaranteed to receive a sparkling wine produced in the Champagne region of France. Parmigiana will always be a hard granular cheese from a particular region of Italy (though fake Parmesans are still common). And Jamón serrano is a type of Spanish ham made from a particular breed of pig that lives in the mountains and is processed in a traditional method.

Similarly, when you buy cashmere, there is an excellent chance that this is what you are getting. You can confirm this by inspection; cashmere does not have a sheen, it is wholly matte. Due to its very fine fibre, it does pill after wear and depending on what the garment is, could acquire a subtle sheen on wear, similar to the kind you might notice on a well-worn wool suit. It does not accrue an electrical charge – if you rub it against plastic, it will not attract dust and hair (and will not shock you). The garment label will always be sewn on, never glued because the glue damages the fabric.

You can try to set fire to it; cashmere (and other wools) will smoulder, smell like burning hair and the ash will easily crush to a powder. Be careful when you do this, as most synthetics are petroleum-based and will explode into flame, smell like plastic or vinegar and turn lumpy as it melts. It might also be a synthetic and manufactured fibre blend in which case it will burn quickly, smell like burned leaves and reduce to a powder. I doubt they will let you do this in the store, and it doesn’t seem likely they will willingly refund or exchange a garment tested by this method.

But the shawl was pretty so I bought it anyway. I feel the cold (which is related to my kidney issues) so I hoped it would be useful on cool summer/spring evenings when all you need is a light layer to block the breeze, but it turns out to have zero wind protection properties. And having worn it on cool but not breezy nights, it turns out to be not very warm either. I’m hanging onto it for another month or two so I can see if it works as a bulky scarf for a mid-winter train station wait (it does), but if I don’t find it warm enough for that, Katy will find herself with something for another 100 days of bling.

The Nepalese government recently introduced the Chyangra Pashmina Trademark, now registered in 41 countries around the world. Suppliers using this trademark can only do so with government approval. Manufacturers who wish to gain accreditation must be members of the Nepalese Pashmina Association, meet a rigorous approval process, and be able to track each item back to its source. If you want “real” pashmina, look for this accreditation in the full understanding that you are buying a high-quality luxury item and will be paying a high-quality luxury price.

If you don’t want “real” pashmina, don’t buy anything labelled with any variant of pashmina as this encourages fraudsters, steals cashmere producer’s income, and leads to the disappointment of people who don’t know any better.

And just in case you wondered, goats that don’t live in cold climates also produce wool; it is called Angora. I imagine that should they pack up and move to Nepal, they would probably start growing similar wool. If they didn’t freeze to death first.


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