What is Unique About Pashmina Wool?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Pashmina wool is special because of it rarity and quality, especially in the western world. It also has softness equal to or greater than cashmere. It holds color beautifully, and the greatest quality wool is very light. In fact, a test of the quality of this type of wool is to thread it through a wedding ring. If it does not slide through easily, it is too thick, and is thus of lesser quality.

Silk cocoons. Pashmina wool is nearly always blended with silk fibers.
Silk cocoons. Pashmina wool is nearly always blended with silk fibers.

This material is harvested from one source, the Himalayan mountain goat. The goat can be found in Kashmir and Nepal primarily. Because pashmina wool set the fashion world on fire in the 1990s, efforts have been successfully made to rear the mountain goat in Mongolia as well. With very similar weather patterns, the Mongolian import now is an excellent source for pashmina.

Pashmina wool's softness is considered to rival that of cashmere.
Pashmina wool's softness is considered to rival that of cashmere.

Earlier harvesting of pashmina wool tended to mean combing the mountains surrounding Nepal or Kashmir to find the shed wool of the goats, frequently caught on thorn bushes. Collections of the wool, which are the winter undercoat of the goats, were minimal. The average goat sheds about 3-8 ounces (.085-.22 kg) of hair per year.

Because of the minimal collection amount, pashmina wool is almost always blended with silk to produce the light, almost shiny cloth. The highest grade wools tends to be an 80% pashmina, 20% silk blend. However, most commonly 70/30 blends are used and marketed.

Pashmina has to be compared to cashmere. Unlike cashmere, it is a blended fabric. Many believe the pashmina wool is far softer. Cashmere may be harvested through a process of combing the goat, which results in slightly coarser wool. However, cashmere is very soft, though it does not have the sheen that the silk threads lend to pashmina.

Since this wool is still rare, and still popular, it is quite expensive. Lower grades might run for 35-50 US dollars (USD) for a scarf. High grades can be considerably higher prices. It would not be unusual to pay up to 100 USD for a simple scarf. The pashmina, a beautiful wrap made from this wool is likely to be priced at least 100 USD, and may be as much as 300 USD.

The decision to raise the goats in Mongolia has led to slightly less expensive pashmina offerings. If one is allergic to wool, there are also some synthetic fabrics, which come close to the texture and lightness of pashmina wool. However, most who love pashmina wool turn up their noses at these synthetics as providing nowhere near the durability and quality of true pashmina.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

naturesgurl3

Great article! One other thing to remember is to only buy responsibly sourced pashmina. With the increase in demand for pashmina stoles, shawls and wraps, some agents are beginning to treat their suppliers poorly, or demand quantities that ensure that the goats are treated poorly.

So make sure that you only buy pashmina products that come from a a responsible supplier that encourages the development of the people and the trade in their area.

Pashmina scarves are the ultimate fashion accessory, and you know what they say -- green is the new black.

So do your part, and choose responsibly sourced pashmina.

Planch

If you're buying your first pashmina scarf, you need to be really careful. In fact, it's best to bring someone that knows about silk pashmina along with you, because there are so, so many fakes on the market.

One thing you need to remember is that not all things with the name pashmina are actually made of pashmina. In fact, the term pashmina has come to mean a long, wide scarf, in the style of the original pashmina scarves.

So for instance, a person selling wool pashminas might not actually have anything made out of pashmina in his stock -- just a bunch of wide wool scarves.

It's also easy to get fooled by a cashmere or synthetic imitation. While that wouldn't be the end of the world to end up with a cashmere rather than a pashmina, getting stuck with a synthetic just stinks.

And it's hard because so many synthetic fibers are so soft, it can be easy to get tricked into buying something that's not a pashmina at all.

So if you have the opportunity, be sure that you bring somebody along with you who's bought one before -- that way you have a better chance of getting what you came for.

closerfan12

I always wondered why somebody felt justified in charging 50 bucks for a pashmina wool scarf -- I guess that does make sense though, if it's so hard to get the materials.

I wonder how pashmina wool shawls actually started to catch on in the West, if they're so rare, even in Asia. And why did it take so long to make it over here?

I still remember when pashmina scarves became popular in the 90s -- everywhere you looked somebody had a (usually imitation) pashmina scarf or shawl, and it seems like the trend continues today.

Could you tell me a little bit more about the history of the pashmina, and how it ended up coming to the West?

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