Passionate about pashmina

Integrating artisanal practices with new technology adds value to this wool fabric

Pashmina was once Nepal’s top export product, right there with carpets and tea. At its peak, pashmina exports accounted for Rs5 billion in 2000 only to fall sharply to Rs1.65 billion in just ten years.

Photos: Aïsha MacDougall

The launch of Chyangra Pashmina brand helped the industry recover slightly, and Nepal now exports around $27 million worth of pashmina products each year. Insiders claim that the industry is now growing rapidly as the demand for the exquisite Himalayan fabric grows internationally.

Nepal launched a National Pashmina Sector Export Strategy in February last year and joined hands with the EU to create the EU-Nepal Trade and Investment Program to improve productivity and innovation.

The plan is to increase the export of Chyangra Pashmina to Rs10 billion by 2026. Last year Nepali and Mongolian Pashmina entrepreneurs agreed to collaborate on quality testing, wool analysis and knowledge sharing.

As part of the deal, Nepali pashmina entrepreneurs would get samples of pashmina fibre, semi-processed wool, and woollen products tested and analysed by the Research and Development Institute of Light Industry (RDILI) of the Mongolian government.

Nature Knit is a Kathmandu-based manufacturer and wholesaler that has been in business since 2004. It now exports 90% of its products to notable multinational brands with orders mainly coming from Germany, Austria, France, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Japan.

bharat adhikari
Bharat Adhikari, Managing Director of Nature Knit. Photo: SUMAN NEPALI

Despite the brand’s popularity, each product is still delicately and diligently made by hand with the average product taking around six days for it to be completed," says Bharat Adhikari, Managing Director of Nature Knit.

“Beyond the brand’s dedication to maintaining traditional and exacting artisanal practices, NatureKnit is also unique in the fact that over 70% of 250 employees are women," Adhikari adds.

Each employee is trained and taught the Cashmere / Pashmina creation practices while receiving a monthly stipend for their children’s education.

While most of NatureKnit’s products are exported, the company also has its store in Thamel, established in 2008, where the brand’s designs and products are sold, primarily to tourists. Designed by a London-based creator, products here range from sweaters to silk prints to intricately woven blankets.

“To ensure that the employees are consistent with work, these products are primarily made in the production gaps between exportation orders and are usually released bi-annually,” says Adhikari.

The term Pashmina is often used interchangeably with cashmere, both referring to the wool of the mountain goat called Chyangra and the practice of creating with this material is the product and amalgamation of the flow of trade and culture via the Silk Road.

Recently, the moniker ‘Cashmere’ has become more common, a reflection of the material’s increased global popularity and commercialisation with most Western audiences being more familiar with Cashmere than Pashmina.

The growth of the industry has not been consistent, however. It faced challenges from the 2008 financial crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic and global supply chain issues. More recently, it is also being impacted by the climate crisis as extreme events and increasing temperatures affect Chyangra populations in that they now face food scarcity, disease, and displacement, ultimately affecting the industry and the livelihoods of those dependent on it.

Get weaving

get weaving

Nepal’s Cashmere / Pashmina industry is set to grow but it is not immune to challenges. The most sustainable approach may lie in traditional practices integrated with technology to ensure consistency and precision.

In seven steps, experts at NatureKnit demonstrate how balls of non-descript yarn is weaved into some of the finest luxury garments:

· Each cone of imported yarn is assigned a barcode that when scanned shows the design, measurements, and texture of the desired products. This barcode is used throughout the entirety of the manufacturing process to ensure that the final product perfectly matches the initial design

· The measurements are then given to the knitting department who individually create each panel of the product

· The panels are then checked for any defects and to ensure that the measurements align with the requested size on the barcode system

· The panels are mended before being passed onto the joining department who meticulously, by hand, join each panel together

· The joined items are then hemmed before being washed

· After being washed the products are scrupulously checked for any holes or inconsistencies before being carefully ironed

· If the products pass the three rounds of checking and quality control, which involves the items being closely held against a light and having each thread carefully checked, the items are then labeled and packed, and eventually exported.