Shahtoosh shawl sales: a cause for concern

Published: December 3, 2010
 Shahtoosh and pashmina shawls remain a top winter accessory among fashionistas. PHOTO: FILE

Shahtoosh and pashmina shawls remain a top winter accessory among fashionistas. PHOTO: FILE

KARACHI: Even though the sale of shahtoosh shawls has been banned globally to protect an endangered species, shawl sellers continue to promote and sell the banned fabric in Pakistan.

Umeed Khalid, Conservator Wildlife at the National Council for Conservation of Wildlife told The Express Tribune, “The shahtoosh shawl is made by killing the Chiru antelope, an animal found on the border of Tibet and China as well as Nepal and India. It is manufactured in Kashmir.”

Khalid said, “The shawl was very popular in Europe until George Schaller, a renowned environmentalist, raised concerns about this endangered species and forced the world to quit [buying] it.”

According to Marriyum Aurangzeb, Head Corporate Relations, World Wildlife Fund, “Chiru is native to India and Nepal. It was first enlisted as an endangered species at  the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora which came into effect in 1975. Pakistan became a signatory to the convention in 1976 and its upgraded version states ‘Shahtoosh shawls have been banned the world over.’”

Given the ban, the shahtoosh shawls sold in Pakistani markets may be dubious.

Dirmender, who works at the Craft Corner in Zainab Market, introduces the shahtoosh shawl as “made from rabbit hair” and says it “comes from Indian Kashmir.” When asked how the product reaches Karachi, he said, “Through DHL containers and wholesale export.”

Manoj Kumar of Thar Handicrafts says, “This shawl is made from the neck hair of calves. It is made in Srinagar but people residing in the Pakistani part of Kashmir are also involved in its making.”

Kumar differs from Dirmender on the material used for the making of shahtoosh, “Rabbit wool is different from shahtoosh fabric,” he asserts. Kumar also rejects the claims made by Zainab Market’s shopkeepers of selling pure shahtoosh shawls. “It is costly and shopkeepers don’t keep more than a couple of pieces. The real shahtoosh can never reach the country. It is often mixed with pashmina that comes our way,” said Kumar.

The price of a typical shahtoosh shawl starts from Rs 10,000 and goes up to Rs 500,000, depending on the quality of  wool.

With four to five different kinds of shahtoosh shawls available in the market, it is difficult to authenticate. “You need to burn the fabric to see if it is real or not,” said Dirmender whose experience says that “the interest [in shahtoosh] is shown not only by foreigners but even local people prefer it over any other shawl.”

What encourages the trade of shahtoosh in Pakistan is the lack of legislation on the issue. Khalid believes that concrete steps at the provincial level cannot be taken until a bill called Pakistan Trade Control of Fauna and Flora comes into effect after it is signed by the National Assembly, a requirement to attain the status of law. The bill has been motioned ahead by the Senate in recent times.

“Only then will legal actions and punishments be effective and all people selling ivory, shahtoosh, rhino horns, tiger bones and such exotic items will be held responsible and be punished severely,” Khalid said.

Published in The Express Tribune, December 4th, 2010.

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