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Identity tags for Pashmina

Mumbai, Feb. 27: It is among the most exquisite and expensive fabrics on earth, hand-spun from a few precious combs of wool collected in spring from the soft underbelly of the Himalayan mountain goat.

Pashmina is in such demand that there is a booming counterfeit trade, but Kashmir’s traditional shawl-makers are hitting back, using the latest security technology to protect their livelihood.

From April, genuine Kashmiri pashmina will be authenticated in a laboratory and embedded with nanotechnology that will give each genuine shawl a unique identity number stored on a central database.

“There are so many counterfeits that it’s become necessary to do this to protect the craft,” said Hina Qazi, of the Craft Development Institute in Srinagar, which is overseeing the scheme, which will be compulsory for all Kashmiri shawl dealers.

Only about 50,000 genuine pashminas are made in Kashmir every year. In stores in London and New York they can cost lakhs of rupees each — making the potential rewards for dealing in counterfeits made from regular wool or cheap synthetic fibres highly lucrative.

The new tags, known as secure fusion labels, cannot be replicated or removed. The technology can withstand repeated washing and can only be read using a special pen. They will allow customers to have 100 per cent confidence that their pashmina is genuine, according to Qazi.

The project follows a similar initiative by Silk Mark India, which has already introduced an authentication scheme for hand-made Indian silk goods.

Sheikh Marouf, of Jamawar Shawls, a company in Delhi that has been dealing in pashmina scarves, stoles and shawls for more than 40 years, said: “It’s a good idea that will help protect the industry,” he said. “We see a lot of ‘pashminas’ that are actually made in China. They are not even made of wool at all but viscose. It’s a big problem for the industry.”

Real pashminas have been produced in Kashmir since at least the 15th century, when new weaving methods were introduced from central Asia.