In today’s fashion, cashmere is one of the most luxurious fabrics that you can get your hands on. A cashmere sweater or shawl can cost up to two thousand dollars.The truth is there’s never been a moment in history that cashmere hasn’t been synonymous with luxury and wealth. This plush fabric has been a staple in the closets of upper-class Westerners, but not many of us know about how the fabric came to the West, where it comes from now, or its many implications.

Cashmere comes from cashmere goats, found today in China, Iran, Iraq, Mongolia, Turkey, and Afghanistan. But cashmere gets its name from the South Asian region of Kashmir. It’s no coincidence that the fabric sounds so similar to “Kashmir”. It’s an anglicization of the region’s name.

Though Kashmir is no longer the main source of cashmere fabric, it remains a crucial part of the fabric’s history and origins. Cashmere was first processed in Kashmir as far back as the 13th century. But, beginning in the 18th century, the region began to export the fabric. Cashmere was predominantly exported to France and Britain where wealthy women would wear shawls made of the fabric.

Because they were exported from Kashmir, this became the generic name of the fabric, and that’s stuck around for centuries now.

When I was a child, I remember wondering whether there was any relation. Whether this popular, western fabric had been named for Kashmir. I eventually found out, but most people don’t.

I was shocked to find out that Kashmir had influenced Western fashion to such a degree. No one would deny that cashmere sweaters and shawls have become staples of winter fashion in the West. I was far less surprised to know that barely anyone is aware of the origins of the luxury we call cashmere. I find that a terrifying reflection of our society.

I think in the scariest way, our ideas about the fashion industry are dangerously tied to our ideas about the world at large. And by ideas, I mean our ignorance.

Kashmir’s contribution to the fashion industry is huge,

I find that a terrifying reflection of our society.

it gave us one of the most expensive and valued fabrics we have. And in doing so, our tongues have quite literally tied the region and the fabric together.

But the problem with not acknowledging the origins of cashmere is that it builds apathy.

As a child, I didn’t know about the Kashmiri influence on fashion and several people still aren’t aware. Today, Kashmir is in the midst of a devastating humanitarian crisis, and so many people don’t know. On August 5, Kashmir will have been under lockdown for a year.

For decades, Kashmir has been embroiled in imperialistic land grab attempts from India, Pakistan, and China. This crisis reached a boiling point when India revoked Kashmir’s autonomous status and essentially put the region under military rule.

But no one’s talking about it at all.

The name of Kashmir is now so deeply tied to Western fashion. But we’ve sat back, taken cashmere and it’s luxury while leaving Kashmir behind.

The fashion industry is no stranger to problematic behavior. We’ve seen sweatshops employ inhumane working conditions, and seen foreign workers go unpaid by powerful figures like Kylie Jenner. But sometimes the political nature of fashion can be a lot more subtle than that.

When it comes to cashmere, it may seem like the Kashmir crisis is entirely unrelated. But it’s impossible to disentangle the two.

But the problem with not acknowledging the origins of cashmere is that it builds apathy.

It’s easy to forget how fashion affects the world. How our choice of clothing and sourcing can make a huge difference in the lives of people. But it’s even easier to forget how deeply our ideas of fashion have been influenced by other cultures, and how we’ve written those very cultures off.

When I began writing this article, I questioned its value. Is a cashmere sweater really as political as I’m claiming or is this nothing more than a far reach? But the thing is, politics is so deeply woven into every strand of cashmere that touches skin. Even if the fabric was lazily named for the processing region, it’s a connection between us and Kashmir. Cashmere has interlocked our cultures and our worlds, even if we don’t realize it.

To be honest, I shouldn’t have to point out how Kashmir revolutionized the fashion industry for you to care about what’s happening. But it’s crucial, now more than ever, that we remember how we relate to cultures that we’ve written off as distant and foreign. Our society as we know it is so profoundly bridged to cultures and communities around the globe and fashion is just one of those bridges.

So wrap yourself in cashmere shawls, eat from China plates, lounge on Afghan rugs, but never forget the cultures and people that created them. Never treat them as purely objects for sale at a department store.

And of course, never forget that everything is political, even fashion.

 

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Apoorva Verghese

By Apoorva Verghese

Editorial Fellow