“It starts like a beige tuft of fibre, protruding from a large burlap sack. As we pull it from the hidden source, it gradually reveals itself.”
What’s soft and cuddly, has a touch of class, and is guaranteed to bring a warm glow to even the most unromantic? A pashmina shawl. No wonder it is donned as a family treasure and passed down through generations the world over. The “Soft Gold” or Pashmina as we call it is a prized possession since time immemorial, not just for the household or Kashmir but for the entire nation.
Kashmir has a rich and ancient heritage of craftsmanship. The land of unique motifs and design techniques that have been transformed and perfected over centuries. Mastering Kashmiri craftsmanship takes years of training and designing Pashmina shawls is an art that has been carried forward through generations of craftsmen. To your surprise, a pashmina shawl can take up to 6 months to a year to be made. The legacy is intricately handwoven and embroidered to craft perfection. As a matter of fact, until the 1940s, this precious silk yarn produced in this Valley was exported all over Europe. But to our sorrow, today the craftsmen are fighting the battle of the pashmina. The enemy in this war — inexpensive, imitation pashmina wool that has caused its sales to plummet.
Pashmina is fighting an existential battle. The pashmina industry of Kashmir is a crucial economic contributor to the state and to the country as well. It is one of the largest economic activities providing direct employment to the majority of artisans and traders. This sector also plays an important role in the development and welfare of artisans. The pashmina sector makes the conspicuous contribution in sustaining export trade of the state. However, the industry has seen a decline since late 90‘s. The industry is facing a lot of challenges, some reasons of this are an intervention of modern machinery, lack of information regarding market trends and also increased competition from various countries. The artisans, as well as the traders/manufacturers, are suffering in this struggle of keeping this legacy alive.
Having raised the problem now it’s time for India to fight for pashmina and its market position globally. Artisans and the traders/manufacturers who are related to this trade faces many obstacles like rising cost of raw material, decreased demand due to the introduction of fake pashmina shawls in the market, lack of information regarding market trends and labor rights etc. Artisans face labor problems as well, as they themselves are ready to work on low labor because they don‘t have any other source of earning their livelihood. Also, a majority of the artisans are from the poor economic background and therefore, they mainly face economic problems.
As per traders, arts emporium have lost its glory and haven‘t played the role for which it was meant. As per traders, there have been the cases of arts emporium selling products of angora, toosha, etc in the name of pashmina products. Fake selling of shawls in the name of pashmina products are one of the dreadful threat for customers, due to this reason the perception regarding pashmina in the minds of customers has changed and hence the market situation too.
As mentioned earlier there is an immediate need to reshape our domestic market of Kashmir in order to enhance the pashmina business activities so that the local artisans would themselves know the trend being followed in the market in order to be on top of the market and customer minds. We need to believe and consider the artisans as the backbone of this business and wish for them to be very informative and creative in their work which can be achieved if the gap between market and artisan is reduced. The government has identified pashmina a product with high export potential. It’s high time we put in every possible effort to fight the troubles our Pashmina industry in facing and revive its beauty for generations to follow.