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    The Pashmina Project – nomadic livelihoods, trade and craftsmanship    

To document, research and disseminate the living tradition of pashmina production and craftsmanship in Ladakh with a view to revitalizing the practices connected with the textile heritage of Ladakh.

The Himalayan region of Ladakh has a highly diverse textile tradition that reflects its physical, socio-economic and cultural environment. The range of fabrics used extends from elaborately patterned prestige garments made from trade textiles to simple homespun materials produced from locally available resources of wool and pashmina.  Textiles function at many different levels: they serve as covers and containers, are presented as offerings or obligatory gifts, indicators of rank and status, markers of sacred and secular space. 

Spinning and weaving are centuries-old practices found throughout Ladakh. While wool was widely used in the region, pashmina was largely traded to Kashmir. Today the practice of making cloth is vulnerable to change as few people have the time or inclination to make woollen cloth. Machine-made fabrics and ready-made clothing are easily available and procurable in the markets of Leh and Kargil. As the importance attributed to local wool declines, pashmina fibre has emerged as the one of the most important economic assets that Ladakh produces.

Ladakh earns an annual revenue of approximately 15 crore from the trade in raw pashmina fibre. Pashmina production is limited to the areas of Changthang where the intense cold, wind and high altitudes are crucial agents for the growth of the fine fibre.  Pashmina is obtained from the winter undercoat or down of a variety of domestic goat (Capre hircus), which inhabits the trans-Himalayan plateaux – the animal is also found in Tibet, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, Kyrgyztan, and Kazakhstan. In Ladakh the animal is known as Changra or pashmina goat. Pashmina is recognized as a luxury fibre and commands some of the highest prices in the world of textiles, because of its extreme softness, elegance and warmth. Often synonymous with the name “cashmere” because Europeans first encountered this fine fibre in Kashmir and ‘Cashmere’ was the old spelling of Kashmir. Its appeal is renowned the world over, especially since Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife Josephine popularised the fashion of the Kashmir shawl in the early nineteenth century. In more recent times the appellate “pashmina” is widely used to refer to a thin, light-weight drape. 

The Pashmina goat is herded by the Changpa, nomadic pastoralists who inhabit the Changthang, alongside their herds of sheep and yak. This is a way of life that they have been practicing for centuries, following fixed routes of migration and rearing their livestock. Since the 1960s life for the Changpa changed irrevocably – this began with the influx of the Indian army and Tibetan Refugees, followed by the lifting of travel restrictions in Changthang in 1994. All three factors have altered Changthang’s landscape with roads crisscrossing the grasslands, tourist facilities coming up near wetlands once frequented by migratory birds and the migration of the Changpa towards Leh. 

This project will look at the story of pashmina, from the back of a goat to the shelves of haute couture boutiques and high-street fashion stores world-wide. It will discuss the history of pashmina, the lives of the nomadic pastoralists who herd the animals, the traders who deal in the fibre, the men and women who process and weave it, and the artisans who design the products. New developments have been taking place in the pashmina industry and these transformations will be explored along with present day innovations made in design, technology and marketing of pashmina. It will examine what pashmina means to the people involved in these stages of its production, as well as the consumers who aspire to drape themselves in the elegant and warm fibre.









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