Srinagar, India–It was in October that Shaista Bilal, a resident of the previous quarters of Srinagar in Kashmir, first heard of a spinning wheel that works by a pedal, to yarn pashmina.
The 37-year-old homemaker had for years, in her adolescence, spun uncooked pashmina into threads on a standard picket spinning wheel, referred to as yinder in Kashmiri. On that, it might take her about two months to yarn sufficient pashmina for a single scarf.
As soon as the pashmina was prepared, artisans would weave the hand-spun wool into fine-quality shawls or cloth famously identified the world over as cashmere, a course of that may take one other week.
Shaista had given up pashmina spinning virtually 20 years in the past when she joined school and didn’t resume the work after her marriage. The method of spinning pashmina was too tedious and gave little monetary returns to the newlywed.
Now in want of cash, Shaista went again to yarn pashmina as soon as once more, this time at Me & Ok, a Srinagar-based luxurious worldwide cashmere model. There she works on the brand new yinder which has almost halved the time taken to yarn about 250 grams of pashmina, the quantity wanted for one scarf, to about 40 days from about two months.
“There’s a enormous distinction between the 2,” Shaista advised Al Jazeera sitting behind a yinder fitted with a pedal, calling it “very helpful” because it helps her spin extra pashmina in much less time.
“That is very snug as a result of it means that you can stay seated on a bench not like sitting on the ground. Even the ladies who’ve backaches can freely work on this.”
That’s the wager that Shaista’s employer and the state authorities are making – that the convenience of the brand new yinder, a faster turnaround and the flexibility to earn extra will assist revive the fading artwork of spinning pashmina by hand.
A dying enterprise
Pashmina shawls are woven from the fleece of domesticated, excessive altitude Himalayan Capra hircus goats, a particular species of goat discovered within the Himalayan vary in Tibet, Ladakh and Nepal.
Spinning pashmina and shahtoosh was as soon as a family affair in Kashmir, primarily the area of younger women and girls, and within the 1990s there have been tens of 1000’s of ladies concerned within the course of throughout Kashmir, stated Mahmood Shah, director of the state authorities’s Kashmir Handicraft and Handloom Division. However due to poor wages – one rupee per thread – most girls finally left the enterprise and there are actually just a few thousand nonetheless spinning pashmina, he stated.
“This spinning [of pashmina], you may say 99 % was finished by the ladies right here. Their contribution has been immense within the commerce,” Shah advised Al Jazeera.
Aside from the poor wages, competitors from mechanised spinning mills in Kashmir and Punjab state additionally performed a job in decimating the handwoven business.
As an illustration, whereas it price $370 to spin by hand one kilogram of pashmina, the identical factor may very well be finished for a miniscule $30 on a mechanised mill, Mujtaba Kadri, founding father of Me & Ok, advised Al Jazeera.
The ensuing rise of low cost pashmina shawls decimated the handwoven business and led to the “marginalisation of ladies artisans,” Shah stated.
One other blow to the spinners and the weavers got here in 2000 when the Indian authorities banned shahtoosh shawls, probably the most wanted for his or her fineness which got here at a premium, following studies that Tibetan antelopes had been killed for his or her hair.
“When the ban on shahtoosh occurred, it led to a point of marginalisation,” of the spinners, Shah stated. However when the mechanical spinning machines got here, “the craft reached the snapping point,” he added.
As an illustration, within the monetary yr ending March 2021, the state exported shawls price 1.7 billion rupees ($23.5m), a decline of greater than 70 % from the yr ending March 2013 when it exported shawls price 6.2 billion rupees.
Now the Kashmir authorities is making an attempt to alter issues. Aside from introducing the brand new yinder in October, it has additionally elevated the charges for the hand-spinning of pashmina to 2.5 rupees a thread, up from one rupee.
“If the ladies don’t earn an honest wage part why ought to they do it? Except and till it’s profitable for them, they won’t do it,” Shah stated.
The federal government can also be engaged on bringing in a minimal assist value, a authorities regulated pricing which might set the beginning value for a single piece of pashmina scarf at 12,000 rupees ($160) to make sure higher revenue for the sellers.
Each the federal government and the sellers are betting on the brand new spinning wheel to assist revive the artwork and the enterprise.
“This new machine is a sport changer,” stated Me & Ok’s Kadri, including it’s bringing extra girls again to the previous conventional hand spinning of pashmina “which is an efficient factor for this business.”
Kadri, who has been within the scarf commerce for greater than 20 years and exports the hand-made wrap the world over, has skilled dozens of ladies, together with Shaista, to deal with the brand new spinning wheels that come fitted with a pedal. Up to now he has offered without cost 40 items to girls, he stated. One unit prices about $80.
The Kashmir Handicraft and Handloom Division has additionally arrange coaching centres throughout Kashmir to coach girls on the brand new spinning wheel with a purpose to revive the “good previous days” of pashmina work.
Misbranding and GI Tag
Officers on the handicraft division are additionally making an attempt to revive the premium on pashmina which can’t be spun on a machine or a loom resulting from its fragility, they are saying.
To avoid wasting labour prices, some merchants bolstered uncooked pashmina with plastic fibres permitting them to make use of the looms for sooner manufacturing.
The shawls are then soaked in a light acid to dissolve the plastic. “And when that occurs, it results in the shrinkage of the scarf and lint seems inside six months,” Shah stated. “The standard of the shawls has gone down significantly.”
The US customary for good high quality cashmere is 11-18 microns of thickness. The Kashmiri handspun pashmina’s thickness is between 11-15 microns.
Authorities officers are additionally making an attempt to revive the premium of the pashmina tag. Amritsari shawls, because the machine-spun imitation shawls are referred to as, have affected the gross sales of real Kashmiri shawls since they’re much cheaper. A number of merchants from Kashmir have additionally purchased into the economics and purchase low cost shawls from Amritsar, or make them on their very own mechanised mills, which they promote in Kashmir at excessive costs like pashminas.
To struggle the misbranding, the native authorities introduced in a geographical indication (GI) tag – a type of mental property or certification given to sure items or merchandise from a particular area.
Although Kashmir began GI tagging pashmina merchandise in 2013, it’s only previously yr that authorities officers have stepped up their efforts on that entrance.
Each hand-spun and hand-woven product goes right into a laboratory the place its thickness, high quality and materials is checked underneath a microscope and thru varied different parameters.
As soon as a scarf is discovered to be each hand spun and hand woven, a tag is hooked up with a singular eight-digit code, which is linked to a database that exhibits the place the scarf is from, and who has made it.
“Anybody, wherever on the planet can verify via that code whether or not the scarf is genuine pashmina or handcrafted,” Mohammad Younis, an official on the Pashmina Testing and High quality Certification Heart, advised Al Jazeera.
Shah stated that individuals can get machine-made shawls wherever on the planet however Kashmir’s specialisation is its ability set which must be protected.
“The world is aware of us for our ability set … Now we have to guard [it],” he stated.