Srinagar — Artisans in Jammu and Kashmir have registered a trust to encourage handmade crafts and promote pashmina shawls as an alternative to the much-in demand shahtoosh wraps made from the wool of the endangered Tibetan antelope chiru.
The Kashmir Handmade Pashmina Promotion Trust has been formed under an initiative by the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and is supported by the British high commission.
“The trust will promote handmade pashmina among likely buyers in different exhibitions and fair-price shops in India and elsewhere,” said Aniruddha Mukherjee of WTI.
Made from the fur of the Himalayan goat Chyangra that scales the snow-capped mountains of Nepal, India, and Tibet, pashmina shawls have for centuries been cherished as an investment, tradition and even art form in South Asia.
After machines took over part of the production work, workers weaving the shawls by hand have been in danger of losing their livelihoods.
Spinners and dyers, who constitute the largest group in the production process, are the worst affected.
Handmade pashmina is pure and superior in quality as compared to machine made shawls. The soft and fine fibres of the wool require delicate hands and craftspersons in the Kashmir valley are the only ones who have this expertise – a skill considered to be at least 600 years old.
In machine made shawls, the pashmina is mixed with different fabrics to retain form and consistency.
According to WTI official Fayaz Ahmed Mir, shawls, sweaters, scarves, muffs and other items of clothing made from pashmina wool are hugely popular with foreign and domestic buyers.
While the cost of a handmade shawl could vary from Rs.10,000 to Rs.100,000, depending on the amount of embroidery work, machine made shawls cost between Rs.3,000-60,000.
“Buyers will be made aware about the quality and class of the handmade pashmina, which is worth every penny,” said Mukherjee.
The chiru, from which shahtoosh is made, is a protected animal found at very high altitudes. As the animal cannot be domesticated, it is killed to obtain the fine wool from its soft underbelly.
The UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to which 150 countries including India are signatories, gives the chiru the highest protection and bans international trade in shahtoosh.