As winters start taking a backseat, we start packing away our most-prized winter wardrobe. The soft scarves, grizzly jackets, stylish boots, and warm shawls get the better of us. And when we talk about winter clothes can we ever forget our beloved Kani shawls, better known as Pashmina shawl?
Kani is a premium version of Pashmina and is costlier too. Contrary to popular belief, Pashmina is not completely handmade whereas Kani is. Asif, a Kani weaver, says, "We don't have a lot of buyers for Kani because it is more expensive."
We met Mohamad Asif at the ongoing 'Hunar Haat'. The Union Minister of Minorities Affairs has organised the 26th edition of the initiative at the city's Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. The 26-year-old Kashmiri lad shares how he became a weaver.
"I started studying weaving in 2009 when I was still in school. One day, I went up to my father and told him I wasn't interested in studying further. At first, he scolded me but when I told him he'd just be wasting money by sending me to school, he gave in," Asif shares.
Asif left school in Class 8 and went to Nepal where his friend owned a store of Pashmina Shawl. In Nepal, Asif carefully studied the market and consumers' demand. He realised there was a good response for Pashmina shawls. Earlier, Asif sold pure wool shawls but later moved to selling fine wool because it was comparatively soft while wearing.
"I am now less interested in this business because people don't buy such expensive material. We have Kani shawls which cost Rs 1 lakh and above, but people don't buy them. We are not even able to lower the prices since the material is completely handmade. Kani shawl weavers often complain of weak eyes as they need to do fine needlework. So, we cannot compromise with the pricing," the young weaver says.
Asif says they have now become mediators since people have stopped buying from them directly. Now, Asif sells his artwork showrooms. The labour cost is also high as no machine work is involved.
“People nowadays can compromise with quality so the demand for good material keeps on decreasing. What was made earlier has very less impact on today’s generation," Asif says.
And to make matters worse, the Kani faces bitter and unjust competition from the cheaper machine-made shawls from Punjab. Interestingly, original weavers and sellers like Asif are unperturbed. They say it is easy for customers to identify the difference between handmade and machine-made material.