All of us are aware of Kashmir’s Centuries Old handcrafted Pashmina Shawl industry. Surely we all remember those long, brightly colored Kashmiri shawls, made from the hair of Tibetan goats, that everyone from Nicole Kidman to Great Aunt Pearl wore. They were a status symbol, primarily covering the bare shoulders of the most beautiful and stylish high-heeled European and Western women. They were originally oversize and soft, but the foreign touch is what made “Pashmina Shawl” a sensation; in a short course of time, the word was being used to describe a special entity that you proudly own. You believe it or not but the fact is that, the most expensive fabric of the world originates from the “Valley of Kashmir” this place is also literally known as paradise on earth.
Known for its extravagant style the world’s most Luxurious, Charismatic, Desirable, Popular, Exotic, Rarest, Softest, and Most Expensive Fabric namely is “Shahtoosh” and the alienated story of the fabric is “Neither you can sell it! Nor you can own it!” Because its trade has been deemed illegal. The “Shahtoosh” shawl is now a banned product. Its possession and sale being illegal in most countries of the world. However, there are evidences that secretly the weaving of “Shahtoosh” shawls continues in Kashmir due to high demand from foreign buyers especially western buyers.
In Persian “Shahtoosh” means “king of wool” and references to it can be found in Chinese texts as early as the 17th century. Shahtoosh shawls have been handcrafted almost exclusively in Srinagar, the capital of Kashmir, for at least 4 centuries. In the late 1700s, shawls from Kashmir, including “Shahtoosh” and other varieties of “Pashmina” were all the rage and a sign of richness, pride and style for the fashionable European women. Legend has it that Napoleon gave Josephine a Shahtoosh and she loved it so much that she ordered 400 more.
The “Shahtoosh” shawl is made from the hair obtained from a rare species of Tibetan antelopes Known as “Chiru” a species of antelope indigenous to the Tibetan Plateau in China now an endangered species. Now in present times of science and technology if you consider yourself a pride owner of a “Shahtoosh” shawl, we are sorry to inform you that you own an illegal entity. As per law you will be filed under illegal entity holder.
20 years ago the word “Pashmina” has been introduced in conversation without being a tag line, but it came to limelight due to the controversy discussing “Shahtoosh” a much precious fabric from the loveliest region of the world with charm and more exotic name. The estimated market price of a simple or plain Shahtoosh shawl in the western market goes around $5,000–$20,000, while shawls with more embroidery will increase its price. “Shahtoosh” is the finest wool fabric on earth having the lowest micron count, followed by vicuña wool fabric.
Like most varieties pashmina in Kashmir, “Shahtoosh” also originates from the Himalayas. The 16th-century Mughal emperor “Akbar” the Great was a great patron and lover of “Shahtoosh” as from various sources of history we came to know that the wardrobe of Emperor Akbar the Great was heavily decorated with “Shahtoosh”. Shahtoosh made its way to the royal wear in 16th century. Many say that the ruler of Kashmir Mirza Muhammad Haider Dughlat introduced the weaving of “Shahtoosh” in the region which provided work opportunity to many fine weavers.
In 1975, these majestic horned antelopes have been declared endangered species. And if you say does that stop the trade? No, you are wrong, that didn’t stop trading “Shahtoosh”. In the same year 1975 under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to which India is a signatory, the “Shahtoosh” trade was banned globally. The antelope is listed in Schedule I of the India’s Wildlife (Protection) Act, granting it the highest level of protection. In response the restrictions, it made the “Shahtoosh” rarer, more expensive and desirable. There are evidences that in late 1998’s “Shahtoosh Shawls” were brazenly presented for sale in windows of tony shops on New York’s Madison Avenue, as well as in magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, as. The price tags were commensurate with its rarity, extortionately expensive and back then, a “Shahtoosh” could scratch your wallet by as much as $2500 – $15,000—far more than the cost of other luxurious thins like vicuña and diamonds. After 1998, agencies around the world, including the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, began cracking down on the illegal importation of “Shahtoosh”. Bringing “Shahtoosh Shawl” into the United States could result in a five-year sentence in federal prison and a six-figure fine, and you’d have your proudly-gotten fabric confiscated by U.S. Customs officers.
In 2001, “Vanity Fair” reported about a group of wealthy, high-profile women, including supermodel Christie Brinkley and Socialite Karen LeFrak and the late Nan Kempner, were issued summons by federal agents for owning “Shahtoosh”. Denise Hale, another socialite, told the magazine: “Darling, everyone I know has one or two. Or three or four or five. This is the first time I hear it is illegal.” And the scandals didn’t end there—in 2017 Martha Stewart told the New York Times Travel section that she packs her “Shahtoosh Shawl” on every trip. An editor’s note was later added to clarify that Stewart’s shawl was cashmere and not a real Shahtoosh.
Aside from its versatility and rarity, the real reasons “Shahtoosh” was and still is the entity of so much craze lies in its ultra-soft surface and exceptionally fine threads that the fabric is so thin and extremely soft, a thing worth mentioning is that diameter of “Shahtoosh” wool is 9-11 microns an entire shawl can easily be passed through a wedding ring that is why “Shahtoosh” shawls are also known as the “ring shawls”. “It’s the forbidden fruit of fabrics”. “Shahtoosh” is much desirable because of its rarity. It is just another instance explaining the “diamond-water paradox” of Adam Smith, “The rarer a thing is, the dearer it seems”. Its softness, and extremely fine threads make it feel like it’s been woven of the hair of angels fallen from heaven.
In present times “Shahtoosh” trade is still reported at large from Pakistan. Ringing of summer bells in Pakistan marks the advent for designer lawns but ambitious designers would not just sit around their grates. Pashmina and wool may make any luxurious buyers eyes sparkle but “Shahtoosh” obviously makes their jaws drop and embroidered “Shahtoosh” means making the buyers go crazy. However things didn’t sail as smooth as are expected. People of Pakistan from all parts came forward to protest against the shawls which have sent the indigenous species of Tibetan “Chiru” antelope on the verge of extinction. “Shahtoosh” has emerged as the new fashion luxury in Pakistan. However rage for Shahtoosh is not new. The laws of Pakistan didn’t allow the sale and holding of “Shahtoosh”. According to Ali Hassan Habib, DG WWF-Pakistan, “selling the products by branding Shahtoosh or Toosh label is illegal under law as it uses the name of an endangered species to promote the product.” The consequence of the Shahtoosh trade is that the population of “Chiru” antelope which was 1 million in the 20th century dropped to approximately 75,000 in 21st century. This shook the conscience of the people in the Govt. and resulted in passing and signing of conventions that made wearing and processing Shahtoosh illegal. Anyone wearing or processing it is blameworthy and likely to be arrested. However, in Pakistan, law and order situation is as endangered as much as the species of Chiru Antelope. Consequently nobody comes in the way of “Shahtoosh” trade. And who can dare or even think of hindering the sales when the females of elites, influential bureaucrats and politicians are ready to purchase Shahtoosh in black. Moreover even the ban on “Shahtoosh” turned out to be a tool to lure and seduce a section of elite and class-conscious customer base who are ready to pay even much higher to possess the fiber.