Models draped in Kashmiri Pashmina shawls once graced the ramps of Milan. But with technological intervention giving rise to adulteration, Pashmina is losing both its sheen and market. Syed Asma reports the decline in Kashmir’s globally recognized product.
It was 2 am and his phone rang. Rubbing his eyes, half sleeping Kareem (name changed) picked up the phone and found an angry woman on the other side. “We are doing business for past so many years and you cheated me. It was not expected of you,” she said in a high tone. The phone call was from Italy. Kareem looked shocked as it was the first time in his career of more than two decades that he was receiving a complaint about the quality of his product.
Kareem, a major exporter of Pashmina in Kashmir, says that he is the seventh generation of his family who is into this business. Apart from catering to the demands of domestic market, his business house exports Pashmina products to Europe, America and Japan.
The complaint call was about the Pashmina shawl consignment of 150 pieces that Kareem had exported to Italy this year. A Japanese lady had purchased one of those shawls and had developed skin allergy. On getting the shawl tested, it was found to be a mixture of Cashmere (Pashmina) 19%, angora (wool) 35% and silk 39%. Ideally it should have been 100% Cashmere (Pashmina). The Japanese lady was allergic to Angora.
Kareem is now asked to pay the damages not only for the shawl of Japanese lady but also for the whole consignment as all the pieces in it were found to be counterfeit, tests in Italy revealed. The Italian women took a sample of 450 fibres, of these 326 fibres were concentrated wool and 124 were Pashmina. “More than 60% of the fibre is adultered,” reads the test.
“Now I am told to pay the damages. I suppose it will be a huge amount but I will try to negotiate with them,” says Kareem. “I think they will agree, we shared a cordial relation with them.”
Apart from bearing huge losses in his business Kareem says his future prospects are also at stake. The Italian woman has told him that until the present crisis is resolved, she will not work with him, besides, his previous bills will not be cleared too.
“I am not worried about the business loss, sooner or later it will be compensated but I am thinking of the reputation that I and my family have built over the years,” says Kareem. “It has been badly affected.”
“I have about 360 clients overseas and this episode will affect the relationship with all of them,” a worried Kareem adds.
To reduce further damages, Kareem has cleared all the stocks and has returned all the Pashmina products to the middle men and the artisans. He advised them to check on their own whether their products are pure or fake. “I told them to identify within themselves where in the chain of activities adulteration of the product is happening,” Kareem says. Besides, he has reduced his work force by about 96% and has retained only 4% which includes the most trustworthy artisans who have been working with him since years.
After Kareem received complaints from Japan and Italy, he too sent a few samples to Hong Kong for testing and found the average percentage of Pashmina was 77% and that of wool and silk was 16% and 7% respectively.
Till now he used to trust his dealers and artisans and thought they produced the best quality but now, Kareem says, he will have to keep a vigil himself as he cannot bear a similar loss in future.
He feels he is not responsible for what has happened as he is not the manufacturer of the product but just an exporter. He and many others associated with the trade say that the standard of the craft deteriorated after the machines intervened. They believe it is since then that the prevalence of counterfeit Pashmina has increased in the market.
Its intervention dates back to 2004 when a Pashmina de-hairing plant worth Rs 8.25 crores was installed in Leh. The joint project of Ladakh Hill Development Council, Union Textile Ministry and United Nations Development Program had to face resentment in Kashmir as the dealers maintained that mechanically dehaired wool will impact the quality of the product. Initially, they protested but later purchased a few de-hairing machines themselves because of high demand for Pashmina product in the market.
“Had we behaved smart, Kashmiri Pashmina would have been an elite’s product,” opines an experts. “If we would have avoided the intervention of machines and maintained the standards of an actual ‘handicraft’ we presently would be ruling the international market as we can genuinely produce the best Pashmina product in the world.”
Besides producing concentrated fibre in these machines the manufactures use silk and comparatively low grade wool to cut the manufacturing costs of the product. The adulteration is usually done while making the yarn which is presently imported from China. About the adulterants, it is speculated that comparatively less costing fur of Pelo is used.
In order to increase production of Pashmina, China has created cross hybrid of a Pashmina goat and a Russian Ram. Though, these are all speculations and are not confirmed yet.
The quality of Kashmir’s Pashmina product is degrading from past many years now leaving exporters and artisans upset over the change. They blame the dealers and middlemen for this. “To make maximum profit, they use as many unscrupulous ways as they can,” says Kareem. He suggests the government’s intervention is necessary to retain the fame of the brand ‘Cashmere’ (Pashmina) in the world outside. The government should set-up a foolproof quality control mechanism which will check these unscrupulous practices.
However, it is not the only incident where counterfeit Pashmina was sold in the name of ‘Cashmere’. Talking about the importance of the proper quality control mechanism in the state, Mubeen Shah, another renowned handicraft exporter and a former President of Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) says that keeping in view the same situation they had pressed for the significance of Geographical Indication tags for Kashmir’s handicrafts and had pressed for setting up a proper laboratory which will make pure Pashmina to stand out from the rest.
But unfortunately even after spending crores of rupees nothing substantiate has come up yet. The project has missed many of its deadlines and each time when the concerned authorities are asked about it they make new promises and set a new deadline for themselves. It seems there is no monitoring agency which can make them accountable.
Experts opine that the government has failed to preserve the brand Cashmere, pure Pashmina, which in rest of the world had helped Kashmir to make an identity.