Thursday, March 26, 2009

Pick a perfect printemps pashmina

My friend Catherine recently showed me her new mocha pashmina, which she picked up for $15 in one of those luggage and accessory shops. "Look", she said, showing me the label, "cashmere!"

A quick snidge between my thumbs suggested the true content, acrylic. I told her my verdict; she was crestf
allen. I tried to comfort her, "The colour's pretty, so wear it and enjoy it while it looks good"- but that will be only weeks, till the acrylic pills under minimal friction.

How do you know what you're getting? Certainly not by the label, except for branded goods, and even they can cheat. (Last fall, New Zealand merchant Ezibuy unloaded nearly 4, 000 fake "70% pashmina 30% silk" shawls before getting caught and fined.)

A fake is made with acrylic, r
ayon, poly/cotton or less frequently, lambswool. (I enjoy a soft lambswool scarf, but won't pay cashmere prices for it!)

Coming to Terms

"Pashmina" means "cashmere" and comes from the Persian word "pashm", for "wool". The fibre is made from the undercoat of the capra hirus goat. In the West, however, "pashmina" is often used generically to mean a shawl which is usually a blend of wool and silk.

(Shahtoosh or "ring shawl
s" are made from hair from a Tibetan antelope, or Chiru; the animals were killed to harvest this hair. To protect the Chiru, the government of India banned the sale of shahtoosh shawls in the late 1970s, and it is illegal to import them.) The harvesting of pashmina does not require killing the wool-bearing goats.

100% Cashmere

A "100% pashmina" shawl is pure cashmere of a fine grade, a luxury piece even in India and Nepal. Expect to pay from $400 to thousands for a handloomed piece, depending on quality, and more for embroidered pieces.

For a look at just how exquisite pure artisan-created pashmina gets, see the web site of Trehearne & Brar, who sell the finest handwoven heirloom shawls.

If you'd like a featherweight 100% cashmere stole (85 x 180 cm or about 33 x 71 inches), I recommend Eric Bompard's Cashmere Voile, at about $155 US dollars (plus shipping), available in luscious colours (that sound even more so in French) via their efficient web site.

Choosing
your Silk/Pashmina Blend

A 70/30 pashmina-silk blend is perfect for light outerwear or as a comfy layer in air-conditioned buildings.

Fibre content: 70/30 is the standard ratio of pashmina (or cashmere) to silk, though I have seen 80/20. The silk content makes the shawl stronger, with a tighter weave, and gives a slight sheen. Beware the "100% Pashmina" label unless you are certain it is 100% cashmere, and remember there are many grades of cashmere.

Merchant: Avoid dealers from Asia; I'd choose the UK because of their strict cashmere labeling laws. In general EU countries and the US and Canada are good
. Make sure any online dealer has a return-for-refund policy.

I'd buy from Sunrise Pashmina in a heartbeat: an attentive, quality-conscious and fair-trade company. Based in Ithaca, New York, they ship their product from Nepal. I was impressed by the variety of options, including custom embroidery and beading, and hard to find jacquard weaves.

A Toronto Post reviewer is thrilled with her Sunrise shawl. The same product is available in the UK by QVC online dealer Pure and Simple. Shown above, a Sun
rise medium shawl.

Price: Expect to pay at least $125 (in US dollars) for a 28 by 80-inch shawl from a reputable online source. Prices are generally higher at a boutique (I am seeing decent product for around $US 200.) You might find a bargain, but don't pay $19.95 and expect anything but a fake. A hand-loomed piece (identifiable by the same pleasing, subtle variation in density you would notice in a hand-loomed silk wrap) will cost more than a machine-loomed version.

Price is determined by many variables, including wool quality (length, fineness, softness of fibres; proportion of rough guard hairs and overly short fibres), dye, production processes such as spinning and weaving (machine or hand-loomed); silk prices and overhead.

Feel: Go to high-end shops and feel their products; pet the piece with your hand and also tie it on your neck. Take time to let your skin pick up and store its impression of quality.

Here's a useful eBay Guide, "My Pashmina- Is It Really Cashmere or Is It a Fake?; see especially the section headed "How to Examine Your Garment". I haven't tried the fibre test described, but it seems like a good one.

A gorgeous marigold or robins' egg blue shawl provides a relatively reasonable wardrobe tweak and banishes the last of a winter-bleak landscape.

19 comments:

Deja Pseu said...

Very informative, thanks Duchesse! I just found my favorite EB lace scarf on the website(the one thing I bought from EB in Paris, and wished they'd had other colors)!

~Tessa~Scoffs said...

I found my pashmina at Nordstrom during their once-a-year sale for $99. It's very thin, but that's fine for San Diego. My regret? I should have bought two. I got one in work-horse brown but could use one in an accent color like turquoise or raspberry.

Seth Sicroff said...

Thanks so much for your informative and complimentary coverage.

I have a few little corrections...

You refer to Shahtoosh as an antelope, and then as a goat:

Shahtoosh or "ring shawls" are made from hair from a Tibetan antelope, or Chiru; the goats were killed to harvest this hair.


The Chiru is an antelope, which is different from a goat; I was concerned that your statement might be misinterpreted to mean that pashmina goats are killed. As domestic animals, pashmina goats probably come to a bad end, but they are not killed in the process of harvesting the wool. The Tibetan antelopes are wild and have to be shot (by poachers) before they can be shorn.

Also, your article may give the impression that Sunrise Pashmina only deals in pashmina/silk blend wraps. In fact, we do have 100% pashmina. The full-size 100% pashmina ("ring shawls") measures 36" x 80" and costs $135. Medium-size (28" x 80") is $125. All of our shawls our handloomed and are of the absolute best quality, so it is not true that you have to spend $400.

The difference between 70/30 and 80/20 is that a slightly lighter silk is used in the 80/20. You don't get more pashmina, just less silk, and that turns out not to be a good thing, as the lightest silk is not strong enough to withstand the high "warp" tension usually used on pashmina looms; that means the tension has to be reduced, and you get a sloppier weave.

As for location, the best shawls come from Nepal these days. If you go there and know something about the product and/or have a reliable contact, you can get a great shawl for a rather low price. Sunrise Pashmina is owned by a Tibetan refugee family living in Kathmandu (Tsering Choekyap); all shawls are dyed (and embroidered or beaded, if requested) to order and shipped from Kathmandu (very very quickly!). The Ithaca "base" is just a home office. Empar and I handle Internet retail, and we do have a small "pret-a-porter" collection, but everything actually originates in Nepal. If someone wants to buy a largish quantity (e.g. $1000 or more retail) we encourage her to contact Tsering and buy directly; Tsering gives those customers his lowest rate without negotiation -- the same that we ourselves pay. There are a few little downsides to dealing with him directly: he doesn't have a merchant account (for accepting credit cards), and he can't accept returns (due to Nepali customs, which would tax "imports" more than the making cost in Nepal).

If you do check us out, please ask for a 5% courtesy discount (just cite coupon code Pdp5.

Thanks!
Seth Sicroff
www.Sunrise-Pashmina.com

cybill said...

I had a wonderful ebay experience where I thought I was buying a cheap & cheerful fake like your friends. When I received it, I realized I had purchased the real deal (70/30 cashmere & silk) for $3 dollars! The down-side is that now I know how good the real stuff is, I'll never be satisfied with a fake again.
Love all the info on this Duchesse, thank-you.

materfamilias said...

I have a beautiful finely-woven cashmere shawl/scarf that my husband bought for me in Ottawa years ago after seeing me admire it but balking at its $200 price tag. Every time I wear it, I'm struck again but the warmth it delivers in such an airily light cloud -- and it looks as fresh, after a light wash and blocking, as if it were new. I've also got a few 70/30 scarves, also very fine, and also a joy to wear. I'd much rather have fewer of these than the disappointing copies!
Thanks for such an informative post and thanks to your commenter, Seth, for adding even more -- I'll be sure to check out that website.

Duchesse said...

Pseu: Those EB lace scarves and shawls are TDF, bien sur!

Tessa: You will feel great till you read about Cybill's luck.

Cybill: Do you remember that vendor's name, by chance?

Seth: Thank YOU for the correction, deep background and the discount, I'm headed to Sunrise now :)

materfamilias: Paterfamilias is some guy! And more pashminas are always handy... its sooo chilly by the water.

Frugal Scholar said...

I have long been annoyed that pashmina has become a synonym for "shawl," with no regard to fiber content. I saw many scarves in Florence labeled wool, that were acrylic. So thanks for the info and sources.

I think you should organize a big group order from Nepal!

Anne (in Reno) said...

Thanks for this, I own one "pashmina" that I bought from a very nice Kashmiri gentleman who offered me tea. I was very polite and got the price WAY down and I still think I paid too much. I assume it isn't 100% cashmere but it hasn't pilled and is a gorgeous shade of green that really sets off my eyes. So I figure it was worth fifty bucks.

Anjela said...

I would just love the Trehearne & Brar one or any piece from their store....So easy to throw this on over anything. Thank you for a well researched and most interesting read!

Duchesse said...

Frugal: Since I live in Canada, a group order, with those pesky taxes and customs duties, will not make sense... but someone else could :)

Anne: Lovely travel story and a blissful souvenir.

Duchesse said...

Anjela: I saw the product when in Paris and its really hard to find words for their shawls... ethereal?

All: re Seth's cashmere product for less than $400 - sure, if importing directly from Nepal you can pay less than $400. However I want to see the quality. Hmmm. Now how can I do that (LOL)!

lady jicky said...

I have a couple but what I would love to know is - does one dry clean or hand wash?????

Imogen Lamport said...

I love a shawl, and have a couple of 70/30 mixes, and also some very fine lambswool ones too, which are not in the slightest bit scratchy.

I have also found a scarf importer here who also sells direct to the public and you can get 100% cashmere shawls for $90AUD (they sell them to the departments stores which sell them for $250 - $300), they are divine.

Great info Duchesse!

Seth Sicroff said...

Most sellers recommend drycleaning only, but this is just to protect themselves. In fact, drycleaning will strip whatever is left of the natural oils -- which is not a good thing for the health of the fiber. Also, if the drycleaner has no specific experience with pashmina shawls, he may do lethal damage to your baby. Even if the shawl is not stretched or torn, the tassels will probably never look the same.

Pashmina can be hand-washed relatively easily. The Sunrise Web site gives detailed instructions on how to do this without stretching or otherwise injuring the material:
http://sunrise-pashmina.com/howtowashpashmina.html

Actully, pashmina shawls don't need to be washed very often. You just hang them up and let the wrinkles fall out.

As for the quality of Sunrise pashminas, we do have an ironclad guarantee. The only exchanges or complaints we ever get are for color reasons. Most people don't have a good idea of what Pantone means by each of the hundreds of color names, and computer monitors aren't consistent enough so that you can trust what you seem to see online. However, if you really do know the name of the color your want, or if you send a swatch (paper or fabric), we can relay the exact Pantone code to the dyer.

Duchesse is right that Canadian customs inspectors are more of a pain than those of most other countries, but only a very tiny proportion of our packages from Nepal are examined, much less taxed. On the other hand, if you're ordering a set of 6 matched shawls for a bridal party, that is likely to attract attention, and could easily delay shipment about a week. So, instead of a week to ten days, you need to order at least three weeks before a critical deadline.

Duchesse said...

Seth: Thanks again for the care info.

What I was implying about about Canadian customs: Would not make sense for me to initiate and receive a group order when the majority of pieces would have to then be shipped on to the US.

I find, Seth, that they are opening so many more packages since 9/11, and levying Canadian taxes (PST and GST) much more assiduously.

Duchesse said...

Imogen: Would you pls comment again, with the link if your vendor has a web site, for readers in Australia?

Midlife, menopause, mistakes and random stuff... said...

What a lovely and informative post!! You can't believe Duchesse, but I found a 100% cashmere pashmina in my local Thrift store that benefits abused women. The price tag? A whopping $14.00. What a find!! I was so excited that I felt like offering the saleslady who showed it to me a tip!!
Hope your weekend is filled with much love, joy and laughter and....

Steady On
Reggie Girl

Duchesse said...

Reggie Girl: I'm loving these "pashmina find" stories, at all price points. Why would anyone give one away? I guess some women believe they are not "scarf persons".

Imogen Lamport said...

Here is their website http://www.thescarfcompany.com.au/