What Is Shahtoosh?

What Is Shahtoosh?

Shahtoosh is an illegal fiber that comes from the Tibetan Chiru antelope. Some manufacturers of pashmina use this fiber and pass it off as genuine pashmina wool. The genuine pashmina comes from the Chyangra goat, or the Capra Hircus, which lives in the mountainous regions of Mongolia and the Himalayas.

The Tibetan Chiru is a natural magnet for the botfly. This botfly burrows deep into the antelope’s skin and lays eggs during the early months of summer. At almost the same time, the chiru begins to shed its thick winter coat. In order to rid itself of the fly, the chiru rubs up against briar patches. The weavers then collect the wool from the bushes. However, in the process of making shahtoosh, Tibetan Chiru antelope has to be killed. In contrast, no harm comes to the goat used to produce pashmina wool. Because the antelope is slaughtered, the population of this species is slowly dwindling. Today it is already part of the endangered species list. In 1977, Tibet passed Schedule 1 of the Wildlife (Preservation) Act of 1972, which prohibits hunting or trading this animal and other listed animals.

The Chiru antelope is found in the high regions of Tibet, in China, and in the northern parts of Kashmir. The trade of this particular shawl is mainly the domain the Kashmiris. Some Kashmiris consider Shahtoosh a precious commodity. One antelope produces about 150 grams of wool and from one kg of shahtoosh, only three shawls can be woven. After being poached, the wool is smuggled via Nepal to the Indian regions of Jammu and Kashmir. There, weavers fashion the wool into shawls, scarves and shawls that are later smuggled in other parts of the world.

In some parts of India, before the shahtoosh became completely illegal, grandmothers would pass on the shahtoosh to their grandmothers as a traditional gift. It’s also part of the wedding ceremonial gifts of many Punjabi brides.

A genuine shahtoosh is considered to be the real deal if it can be pulled through a wedding ring. Despite the unglamorous method of procuring shahtoosh and despite it illegal status, shahtoosh is still being sold in the market albeit through underground means. Eager customers are usually made of fashion cognoscenti, or women from the upper echelons of society. These shawls are priced from $3,000 to $15,000. One high-end fashion magazine even featured celebrities and fashion mavens Claudia Schiffer and Uma Thurman donning what can only be shathoosh wraps. Under the picture reads the caption, “Does she or doesn’t she? Are these wraps shahtoosh or legal look-alikes?” Neither celebrity fully confronted the issue and nobody knows until today.

Included in the article are also several New York socialites who have been served subpoenas due to the illegal importation of the shahtoosh. Many fashionistas are still unfazed by the ban and still continue to wear the fabric in public.

A very good alternative is the pashmina shawl, which is also as soft, as warm and as comfortable as the illegal shahtoosh. In fact, many people cannot even distinguish between the original Shahtoosh and the alternative pashmina, which are made without endangering the animals.

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