Until a few years ago, if you were buying a coveted Kashmiri Pashmina, chances were you’d be worried about being sold a fake. Despite having a geographical indications (GI) tag, fakes and machine-made shawls abound in the market.
But a couple of years ago, the Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) government decided to take things in its hands and reinstate buyers’ faith in the Rs 2,000-crore industry, which provides employment to around 300,000 people. It started using nanotechnology to label Pashmina products like shawls, mufflers and stoles to ensure authenticity.
Pashmina artisans say the move has benefitted them greatly, and most of them prefer to sell certified products as they get full price for the authenticated shawls. Experts from the Pashmina Testing and Quality Certification Centre (PTQCC) said they label about 500 shawls per month, which is almost all the products produced in the state, as the number hardly crosses 500 to 600 per month these days.
But they say there isn’t enough awareness about the technology. They want the government to spread the word about how these shawls are certified and also want more laboratories set up for certification.
“Customers repeatedly ask about the authenticity of my products as most of them haven’t heard of the certification. When I tell them about it, they run searches on their phones and only then are they convinced” — Gowhar Ahmad, a Pashmina artist
Gowhar Ahmad, a Pashmina artist from downtown Srinagar, says he’s sold several shawls with authentication labels since the laboratory was established in 2015. “However, customers repeatedly ask about the authenticity of my products as most of them haven’t heard of the certification. When I tell them about it, they run searches on their phones and only then are they convinced,” he said.
“The government should spread information about how it is ensuring the authenticity of Pashmina shawls,” Ahmad said. He added the labelled shawls fetch full price while machine-made products don’t even get half.
Another artist, Nazir Ahmad from Eidgah in Srinagar, agreed that the labelling is helpful, and reiterated Gowhar’s point about the need to spread the word about it outside Kashmir. “The government should also set up more laboratories for certification of Pashmina products,” he added. At present an artisan has to wait for up to seven days to get a shawl labelled. With more laboratories, the wait time can be reduced, he said.
“The government should also set up more laboratories for certification of Pashmina products” — Nazir Ahmad, Pashmina artist
At present, there is only one Pashmina Testing and Quality Certification Centre (PTQCC) in Srinagar. Established at a cost of Rs 44 crore, the centre has been functional since June 2015.
These artisans may soon have reason to cheer. Mustaq Ahmad Shah, assistant director of handicrafts in Srinagar, said the handicrafts department plans to launch an extensive advertising campaign “to spread information on how to tell apart genuine and fake pashmina products following the recent steps taken by the state government to maintain the purity and glory of this heritage industry.” The department is also considering creating more PTQCC facilities for the benefit of Pashmina artisans, he added.
The seal of authentication
According to experts, fake Pashmina-makers add nylon to below-standard Pashmina from Mongolia and China so that it can withstand the pressure of being spun on automatic machines. These shawls appear deceptively similar to genuine handmade Pashmina and most buyers get easily duped.
“But, after three-four years, the wool fibre starts shrinking and separating from the nylon, especially after washing,” Yasir Ahmad Mir, a professor at Srinagar’s Craft Development Institute (CDI) said. The extremely fine fibre of Pashmina can’t be spun by machine; it can be only hand-spun, he added.
“We do laboratory tests to determine whether the Pashmina is hand-spun or machine-spun and whether the shawl has been hand-woven or machine-made,” said Younus Farooq, manager at the PTQCC.
If a product withstands the scrutiny of laboratory testing, it gets a a non-detachable secure fusion authentication label (microchip) containing nano-particles with a unique layering code, readable under infrared light. The label contains information about the product along with a unique number. It is stuck on the Pashmina product with the help of heat without compromising on its aesthetics.
The label is tamper-proof, tear-proof and washable and has a diameter of 2.5cm. It costs a reasonable Rs 150 to label each shawl. The vendor for the labelling is Microtrace.
The label contains both overt and covert information as mandated by the GI registration. “It confirms that the wool is from Ladakh’s Pashmina goat (Capra Hircus); its fibres are less than 16 micron in thickness; it is hand-spun and hand-woven. It also contains information about the artisan who has woven it. The information can be cross-checked on this website by using a unique number contained in the label,” said Farooq.
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Photographs: Athar Parvaiz Updated at 1pm on May 16: Headline changed