What is the difference between a Pashmina shawl and a simple shawl?
What is the difference between a TV and a HD TV? What is the difference between a phone and smartphone? What is the difference between clothing made in China and clothing made in Italy?
This is the quality of workmanship, quality of premium raw materials, and quality of higher levels of technology. A regular TV is made by many local manufacturers; HD TVs are made by brands like Samsung, Sony, and LG. Who has heard of companies like JVC, Akkai, and Iwaki? Because Smart TVs, HD TVs, Blu-ray TVs are what are top of the food chain. What is the difference between a Nokia 6600, Moto Razr and an Apple iPhone? What is the difference between production of garments from Italian mills like Ermenegildo Zegna, Loro Piana and production from factories in China?
The same difference is between a shawl and a pashmina shawl or a cashmere shawl. Both pashmina and cashmere refer to the same quality of wool however pashmina is the Indian colloquial word whereas cashmere is the anglicized word. Shawls can be made of wool, silk and even blends of viscose, polyester, acrylic.
However only the finest wool yarn, taken from the underbelly of Changthangi breed of goats, also known as pashmina goats now are categorized as pashmina wool. This is again, due to technical reasons, most importantly being that only the wool taken from these goats has a micron thickness of 12-15 microns. For comparison the hair on our head has a thickness of 100 microns, and merino wool from the merino sheep (which is the most common wool) is 24-30 microns in thickness.
Changthangi Goats or Pashmina Goats with wool grown on the underbelly.
Fine Merino Wool compared to human hair under electron microscopy
This pashmina wool is so thin that there are immense production, technological and logistical burdens associated with it.
- Due to the presence of the source of this wool, the Changthangi goats being located only in the highest altitudes of Greater Ladakh, production and supply is extremely limited.
- From the small quantity of production which does occur, spinning the raw fibres into yarn is complicated because the common spindles are not designed to spin such thin fibers into yarns. Similarly all the steps to make yarn into shawls, i.e. warp beams and loom harnesses are not capable of holding such thin fibers. It is either all done by hand or by extremely advance and expensive machinery.
- There is an extremely limited number of artisans who have the skill-set and know-how on how to spin, weave and do embroidery on pashmina fabric and shawls.
We can hopefully now understand that it is not the shawl which is a rare commodity, but the yarn which is extraordinary. A shawl can be made on a handloom or a powerloom from merino wool. It does not require the immense skill, expertise or proficiency in making a pashmina shawl.
All these factors combined, make pashmina shawls and scarves, an item being the perfect example of veblen goods, considering the high demand, extraordinary price, limited supply and its truly exclusive nature.