What Are Pashminas: A Complete Guide to Understanding Pashmina

Pashmina shawls have been a symbol of luxury for ages. They’re soft, they’re warm, and often come with intricate patterns embroidered on them. Pashmina, however, is more than just shawls, and more than just cashmere. If you were always curious about what Pashmina is, and what it isn’t, this post is for you.

What Are Pashminas

Pashmina is an extremely fine fabric made from the wool of a goat reared by the Changpa or Changthangi tribe that live in the Indian Himalayas and Tibet. The goat, too, is called Changpa or Changthangi goat after the tribe. 

That’s also where we get our name from!

The soft wool of the Changpa goat is woven by artisans in Kashmir ( hence the name Kashmir shawl)  into  luxury clothing items that are highly prized the world over. Pashmina fabric is thus goat wool, and not sheep wool like merino.

A Pashmina shawl in rose pink with zari embroidery in gold-plated threads. Buy it here.

What Is So Special About Pashmina?

Pashmina is one of the finest, softest materials known to man. Typical Pashmina hair is about 12-16 microns in diameter. By comparison, the finest merino wool ranges from 18-24 microns in diameter.

The reason Pashmina wool is so fine is because the climate where the Changpa goats live is extremely cold and harsh. The Ladakh region of India and the Tibetan plateau. Most of the region lies more than 3,000 m above the sea level and at an average latitude of 34 °N. Winter temperatures in this region can drop to as low as −40 °C, making it one of the most inhospitable places on earth.

This harsh climate causes the Changpa goats to grow two coats of hair — a coarse outer coat, and fine inner coat. This inner undercoat is then extracted from the goat, not by shearing, but by combing. Each goat yields only about 80-170 grams of hair in a season. So it’s not hard to guess that obtaining Pashmina is a painstaking process.

A fine Pashmina stole in Ikat pattern. Buy it here.

Why Is Pashmina So Expensive?

Pashmina shawls are expensive because of three reasons:

1. The supply of Pashmina fibre is limited, as the Changpa goats from which it is obtained are only found in a limited geographical region — Ladakh region of India, and in Tibet.

2. Obtaining the Pashmina wool from the Changpa goats is a slow and painstaking process. Each goat only yields about 80-170 grams of hair in a season.

3. Once the Pashmina wool has been obtained it is transported to the Kashmir valley, where the raw material is combed, yarn spun, woven, and finished by specialized Kashmiri craftsmen. This is, again, a painstaking process which is either done by hand, or by small machines at the household level. 

All these factors — from limited supply, to its highly skilled finishing — combine to make Pashminas so expensive.

A Pashmina shawl with fine floral embroidery. Buy it here

Is Cashmere and Pashmina the Same Thing?

No, Pashmina is a finer form of cashmere. While all Pashmina is a cashmere, not all cashmere is Pashmina. Cashmere wool can have a thickness of between 12-21 microns, but Pashmina has a thickness of 12-16 microns. This means Cashmere wool having thickness more than 16 microns is not considered Pashmina.

However, the word cashmere is often (incorrectly) used interchangeably with Pashmina. “Cashmere”, in fact, is an anglicized spelling and pronunciation of Kashmir, which is where Pashmina shawls are woven. When Europeans first encountered Pashmina shawls in India, they called it the Kashmir shawl. With time, other fine woolen products from Central Asia, such as those from Mongolia, too began to be classified under the generic label cashmere.

Cashmere goat is found all across Central Asia, China, and Mongolia and has several breeds depending on the region. The Pashmina goat is one breed of the cashmere goat that produces very fine wool

Pashmina shawl, therefore, comes from Kashmir, India, and not from Central Asia, and is obtained from Pashmina goats. This is also the reason why Pashmina shawls are sometimes called Kashmir shawls or Kashmiri shawls.

Why Is Pashmina Illegal?

Pashmina is not illegal or banned. Pashmina is often confused with Shahtoosh, which is the wool obtained from the critically endangered Tibetan Antelope, also known as the Chiru. Shahtoosh is banned, because the Tibetan Antelope is a wild animal which cannot be domesticated. As a result, Shahtoosh wool can only be obtained after killing the animal. This has led to a precipitous decline in their numbers in the 20th century, leading to a ban on the sale and purchase of Shahtoosh shawls and other products.

Shahtoosh wool has an average diameter of only 7-11 microns, making it the finest of all animal wools. In fact, the word Shahtoosh in Persian means “the king of wools”. 

The confusion between Shahtoosh and Pashmina arises because until the early 20th century, both Shahtoosh and Pashmina were made in Kashmir. The Tibetan Antelope shares much of its habitat with the Changpa goats from which Pashmina is obtained. Since both wools were obtained from the Ladakh and Tibet regions, and then sent to Kashmir to be woven into shawls and scarves, Shahtoosh and Pashmina were often confused with each other. 

What Are Pashminas Used For?

When most people think of Pashmina, they think shawls. However, Pashmina is used to make a range of clothing items including shawls, scarves, stoles, wraps, kaftans, capes, jackets, and saris.

We at Changpa Pashmina have the entire range of Pashmina products.

A classic teal Pashmina stole with floral embroidery. Buy it here

A free-size Pashmina cape with elaborate floral embroidery. Buy it here.

A Pashmina sarong wrap. Buy it here.

A Pashmina Sari in pigeon grey with a sozni embroidered border. Buy it here.

A burgundy red Pashmina scarf. Buy it here.

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