The term Pashm, an Urdu word originating from the Farsi language, identifies the down that develops naturally under the winter coat of the endemic animals of Upper Asia.
The most sought-after Pashm is that produced by a trans-Himalayan goat from Tibet and Ladakh, known as the Tibetan or Changthangi goat,
raised by nomadic shepherds Chang-pa.
For the craftsmen of Kashmir, the three factors determining the quality of the pashm fiber are its fineness, length and color.
The first two have a direct impact on the feel of the finished product.
The diameter of natural fibers is expressed in microns.
If that of a human hair is on average 70, that of a Pashm fiber is between 12 and 15 (that of cashmere for industrial use varies between 14 and 20).
The length of the fiber is also fundamental.
The longer the fiber, the silkiest and softer the product will be.
If the length of cashmere fiber for industrial use is about 3.5 to 4 cm. the one demanded by the pashmina craftsmen is at least 5 cm. The length of the fiber is directly related to the climatic conditions that affect the natural habitat of Changthangi goats. Thus, the more extreme the conditions (polar winds, freezing temperatures) the greater the length of the fiber, the more valuable the pashm will be.
The natural colors of pashm are off-white, brown and gray.
White is the color of choice most sought after, both by the craftsmen of yesteryear and by those of today, and this because of its facility to be tinted.
However, unlike the first two factors, the latter has no impact on the quality of the fiber.
Pashmina and Shahtoosh
In the past, the most sought-after Kashmiri shawls were woven with the pashm of the Antilope Chiru, whose fiber known as shahtoosh, is without a doubt the finest ever woven by man (9 to 12 microns!).
Unfortunately, the Chiru Antelope lives at an average altitude of 5.500m and cannot be domesticated! Therefore, to obtain the precious pashm, the only way is to kill the animal.
During the first half of the 20th century, the number of Chiru antelopes exceeded one million, in 1960 their number had increased to about 100,000.
In 1979, the Chiru was included in Appendix 1 of the International Convention on Trade among the Endangered Species.
Since then, trading shahtoos and all its derivatives is strictly prohibited and heavily sanctioned.