Fakes, neglect wearing thin Kashmir's pashmina trade

Mon Dec 29, 2008 1:35am EST
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By Sheikh Mushtaq

SRINAGAR, India (Reuters Life!) - They sell for thousands of dollars, grace the shoulders of celebrities and are coveted by women the world over, but the future of the famous pashmina shawl is tangled due to neglect and cheap copies.

For centuries, pashmina shawls have been woven on handlooms from wool handspun from the shaggy coat of a goat which lives in the heights of the Himalayas in Indian Kashmir's Ladakh region.

Thousands of Kashmiris are associated with the ancient trade, with women mostly spinning and men weaving the delicate yarn into warm, soft scarves and shawls which are often embroidered. The name pashmina is derived from the Persian for wool.

But today, hundreds of pashmina weavers in Kashmir have been forced to move to other professions because cheaper, machine-made shawls are decreasing demand.

Business has also been hit by government neglect of a region beset by nearly 20 years of fighting with Muslim separatists, in which more than 47,000 people have been killed.

"Machine-made cheap products and fakes from different parts of India have badly hit pashmina shawls, and in fact all weavers," said 65-year-old Mustafa Qadir, considered by many as one of the best pashmina weavers in Indian Kashmir.

"Our daily wages fell drastically and many of us had to change our business," said Qadir, who now runs a small grocery shop on the outskirts of Kashmir's summer capital Srinagar, which is ringed by snow-covered mountains.

PATCHY PROSPECTS?   Continued...