Pashmina Galore

Remember Tuesday's post? Where I went all righteous and purgative? Well prior to the purge came the urge to splurge. (See above.)

A trip to the Rocky Mountain Sew Expo resulted in the acquisition of a pashmina, a real one, made from the underbelly fibers of Central Asian pashmina goats. I own a couple of other "pashminas" (the word now is used generically to denote a type of fringed shawl or scarf made with anything from cashmere to viscose), but neither is of the quality of this soft-as-air scarf.

Having read more about commercial pashmina production, I worry, though, that the fibers for this shawl came from domesticated goats in the region; the enormous herds are responsible for vast amounts of soil and land damage in Central Asia. As a lover of fiber and textiles, I'm naturally drawn to fabrics that drape and float and hold color like a paint brush. And I adore this piece; as you can see, it pulls through a wedding ring and feels like warm hands on my throat. But like the cashmere sweaters I've purchased at TJ Maxx, without any regard to provenance, this luxury may come with hidden costs. (I don't mean to impugne the vendor who sold me the scarf; it may be as Earth-friendly and Fair Trade as can be. Enraptured as I was, I didn't ask good questions.)

The last weeks, too, have brought news of a U.S. knitting factory closures; Gildan is closing four plants in Fort Payne, Ala., a place once known as the Sock Capital of the World. More than 200 U.S. jobs are being lost as the company moves production to Honduras.

What does this have to do with pashmina?

Is there a way to combine the production of a luxury good like this beautiful scarf with the creation of domestic jobs? In other words, could pashmina be raised and processed stateside in a sustainable fashion and woven somewhere on this continent? Could we compete with the Gobi goat herders by producing eco-cashmere, thereby inspiring them to do likewise?

I suspect these are naive questions; no doubt the Central Asian producers are eeking out subsistance livings, worrying more about feeding and educating their children than erosion. But with automation, couldn't we produce something as beautiful as this pashmina cost-effectively and environmentally? Couldn't the innovative weave on our sail lift all boats?

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