The terms “pashmina” and “cashmere” are in common use today, and are applied to a wide variety of textiles. Of particular concern is the fact that “pashmina” has become a generic term for any scarf or shawl, ranging from cheap viscose scarves available in tourist shops to some of the most prized and sought after textiles in the world.
Pashmina first got its name from Persian travellers and traders passing through the Kashmir region. The Persian word “pashm” means wool. The anglicised term ‘cashmere’ derives from the name Kashmir.
Genuine pashmina originally came from the high altitudes - up to 15000 metres - of Laddakh (Leh in India and Tibet). The fibre was hand sheared from the underbelly of the very special goat ”Capra Hircus”. It was then hand spun and hand woven on hand looms in the valley of Srinigar. The ultra fine fibres having a range of 12-15 microns (thickness). These practices continue to the present day and are what make genuine pashmina so super soft, light and warm.
The same breed of goat is also found in the inner Mongolian region of China. However the microns are not so fine. The process of making shawls in this region often relies on machine spinning and weaving.
In recent times the Indian government has brought out Geographical Indication (GI) to Kashmir which enables only products fully made in Kashmir, which have been hand spun and hand woven using the yarn only from the Capra Hircus, and below 16 microns, to be called “pashmina”. Any products made outside Kashmir cannot be called pashmina, but can be called cashmere.
In short, pashmina is the material woven from the downy undercoat of the Tibetan Goat. It is the highest quality cashmere.
Once again, remember: all pashmina is cashmere, but not all cashmere is pashmina!