Animal-hair fibre forming the downy undercoat of the Kashmir goat. The fibre became known for its use in beautiful shawls and other handmade items produced in Kashmir, India. The fibres have diameters finer than those of the best wools. Natural colour is usually gray or tan but ranges from white to black. Cashmere fabric is warm and comfortable and has excellent draping qualities and soft texture; it is used mainly for fine coat, dress, and suit fabrics and for high-quality knitwear and hosiery. A sweater requires the fleece of 4–6 goats; an overcoat uses that of 30–40. Because world production is small and gathering and processing are costly, cashmere is a luxury fibre.
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Pashmina is an Urdu and Persian word which only became popular after the so-named shawls, woven in Kashmir, started being popular in the west. Pashmina shawls were originally shawls hand spun, woven and embroidered in Kashmir, and made from fine cashmere fiber.
The goat sheds its winter coat every spring. One goat sheds approximately 3-8 ounces of the fiber.
To meet the demands of cashmere lovers, the goats are now commercially reared in the Gobi Desert area in Inner and Outer Mongolia. The region has identical harsh weather conditions to those of the Himalayan region, and is thereby apt for the goats to grow this inner wool, but also has acres of grazing ground to produce cashmere economically and commercially. During spring (the molting season) the goats shed this inner wool, which regrows in winter. The inner wool is collected and spun to produce cashmere. The quality of the cashmere produced in the Gobi Desert is just as high as that produced in the Himalayas, while the costs are less.
Pashmina accessories are available in a range of sizes, from "scarf" (12" x 60") to "wrap" or "stole" (28" x 80") to full sized shawl (36" x 80"). Pure pashmina is a rather gauzy, open weave, as the fiber cannot tolerate high tension. The most popular pashmina fabric is a 70% pashmina/30% silk blend, but 50/50 is also common. The 70/30 is tightly woven, has an elegant sheen and drapes nicely, but is still quite soft and light-weight.
A pashmina shawl can range in cost from as little as about $35US for a pure pashmina scarf or up to thousands of $US for a super high-quality pure pashmina shawl. They are known for their softness and warmth. A craze for pashminas in the mid-1990s resulted in high demand for pashminas, so demand exceeded supply.
When pashmina shawls rose into fashion prominence during the mid-'90s, they were marketed dubiously. Cashmere used for pashmina shawls was claimed to be of a superior quality, which was really due to the enhanced sheen and softness that the fabric (cashmere blended with silk) had. In the consuming markets, pashmina shawls were redefined as a shawl/wrap with cashmere and silk, notwithstanding the actual meaning of pashmina. Some shawls marketed as pashmina shawls contain wool, while other unscrupulous companies marketed the man-made fabric viscose as "pashmina" with deceptive marketing statements as "authentic viscose pashmina".