Pashmina shawls are timeless pieces with their relevance growing over time. But, the industry faces a decline in production of late. Experts say the reason for the decline is the easy availability of fake pashmina shawls in the market which are being sold in the name of Kashmiri Pashmina shawls. Most of these products are either machine-made or simply made of wool or some other material.
Having the current situation of the industry insight, a Srinagar based training centre Craft Centre for Excellence in Pashmina (CCEP) Weaving has restarted the process of hand-weaving of Pashmina shawls to revive the ancient old technique at a commercial scale.
“These designer fabrics are part of our heritage as they are delicately made with hands and worn carefully by everyone,” said Mujtaba Kadri, a shawl trader and the founder of CCEP.
The centre has installed eight handlooms so far and employed dozens of artisans including women in the manufacturing process using the newly established handlooms. Many women have also been involved in the process of hand-spinning of yarns through the new centre.
Kadri, who owns ‘Me & K’ brand and Aadhyam-Aditya Birla Group in the old city’s Narwara area, is planning to involve more trained artisans and enroll women weavers across Kashmir to help in spinning yarns manually.
“Our plan is to involve as many women as we can,” he said.
"We have already doubled the wages and will ensure round-the-year orders. It will encourage the artisans and help us make genuine pashmina in large numbers," he said.
Director Handicrafts Mehmood Ahmed Shah and Maximiliano Modesti, a well-known Craft Preservationist, were also present when the centre was inaugurated recently.
Kadri said the opening of this centre represents an important step in reviving, promoting and protecting Kashmir Valley’s ancient hand-weaving techniques, which are being lost and forgotten due to the proliferation of cheap, machine-spun cashmere.
He said the initiative is bringing much needed sustainable employment opportunities for spinners (women) and weavers, whilst also ensuring decent working conditions and fair wages.
The Centre for Excellence in weaving prides itself on using only traditional hand techniques to produce the finest pashmina in the world – which Kashmir is famous for.
The yarn is spun by hand, using a charkha (spinning wheel) rather than a machine-spun yarn. This makes the threads much finer, resulting in a softer and smoother Pashmina. The exclusive focus on hand techniques means that wages offered to the craftspeople are almost double the market rate.
Old techniques which would make shawls genuine were fading in Kashmir due to the poor wages and introduction of machines in the shawl weaving.
However, the initiative started by Kadir will encourage weaving and selling of hand-made shawls.
They have decided to double the wages for women from Rs 1 per knot, of 10 threads with 10-inch-long yarn, to Rs 2. Kadri is hopeful that the revised wages will attract more women to the traditional spinning rather than mill spinning.
He said the spinning on 'Yandirr', a traditional Kashmiri charkha produces fine and longer threads of Pashmina wool which is much better than what machines produce.
"The traditional and old-style also enhances the softness and warmth of the product," he said.
Kadri said the centre had already adopted two villages in Kashmir where a large number of women are engaged in spinning wool.
“We will adopt more villages and involve nearly 1,000 women spinners,” he said.
The women artisans have been involved in hand-made shawls including sorting, dusting, dehairing, combing, spinning and finishing.
The government had already announced a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for geographical indication (GI)-certified hand-made Pashmina shawls to support the shawl industry and sustain the traditional technique.
The inauguration function also witnessed the launch of ‘Ladakh Pashmina’ – an exciting initiative to improve the quality of raw Pashm coming into Kashmir by certifying at Craft Development Institute Srinagar.
The raw Pashm is packed in 1kg bags, making it authentic and affordable for small-scale weavers. Me&K has chosen Tariq Shair, the founder and treasurer of Kashmir Pashmina Organisation of AK shawls as the sole distributor for Raw Pashmina.