Warm, luxurious, and oh so soft, cashmere is one of the finest materials in the world — and anyone whose ever been wrapped up in a cashmere scarf will agree. But cashmere itself is wrapped up in controversy — just how conscious is cashmere?
Just like any lucrative business, the cashmere industry is subject to gross exploitation. SANI started with wanting to help with a local community in Nepal that was mainly made up women who were suffering or going through hardships in life by empowering them to look at their craft as artisanal, and to create cashmere so that they can support themselves, their families and their communities. They are the pillars who are carrying the financial burden of their families and SANI supports these women by providing a platform to show their designs and talents to the outside world.
Today the brand sells handwoven scarves, throws and blankets made from ethical cashmere where a portion of the sales goes back to the women in the community who made them. They are woven using treadle looms to preserve the softness of genuine wool as nature had intended it to be. Most importantly, they clearly answer the question that everyone should be asking — who made my clothes? The brand also stands out
We wanted to know more about the production process of cashmere, where it comes from and how its made, so we asked SANI to help us better understand the controversial process by explaining exactly where their (lovely) products come from.
So speaking of your own brand, just how conscious is your cashmere?
SANI’s cashmere is socially conscious. Our mission is to support marginalized women who are the weavers and breadwinners of their families. SANI is a for-profit organization established with a vision to create meaningful opportunities for local pashmina weavers, who are mostly women, in Nepal. SANI provides a platform to these local weavers to showcase their designs and talents in the international market.
PETA argues that the goats who are farmed for the fleece are “exploited constantly and eventually killed.” What is your experience with this side of production?
Goats have been domesticated for meat and milk for centuries. However, the cashmere industry has made it financially beneficial for the herders to raise goats for their hair. The cashmere goats (Capra Hircus goat) live in extreme weather conditions and shed once a year during spring, allowing for their hair to be combed for our raw materials. At the moment, SANI is still a small business and has not sourced pashmina directly from the herders. However, the well-being of animals is a value close to our heart. When we ask this question to our current manufacturers, the unanimous answer that we receive is best summed up in the old adage “why kill a goose that lays the golden eggs?”
What is the process then? Take us through the goat growing extra fur to the pashmina around your neck?
The Cashmere goats have an undercoat layer that keeps them warm in the freezing temperatures. They shed once a year, and this is the only time you can harvest the fibre by combing their undercoat. The undercoat is then separated from its outer layer of hair. The sorting process is tedious and needs to be done by hand. It is then cleaned, refined and rolled into yarns. The yarns are sold in kgs/lbs to various brokers/manufacturers. At the manufacturing unit, the yarn has to go through further labour-intensive processes before they can go into the looms for weaving. This process comprises of spinning, warping, drafting, dyeing etc. Some cashmere/Pashminas are hand-dyed by the piece after weaving whereas some are hand-dyed at the yarn stage before weaving. Once they are on the looms, the weavers weave them into various patterns; standard; ikat; jacquard to name a few. These finished products then undergo checking, combing and ironing before being packaged for sale. It usually takes 7-10 days to produce a scarf from the spinning phase until the time it is ready to be worn. The entire process requires special skills, techniques, precision and long labor hours. The rarity of fibre and intensive use of labour is what makes Cashmere/Pashmina expensive compared to wool.
Pashmina and cashmere is Nepal’s third-largest export so it’s obvious why you’ve chosen to source from there, but when buying from SANI, who exactly are we supporting and how did you chose the community that you work with?
SANI was established with a vision to create meaningful opportunities for local pashmina weavers, who are mostly women, in Nepal. I had always wanted to do something meaningful in my place of birth that would allow me to make an impact in the lives of the marginalized women there. It all started when I met a manufacturer in Nepal who was making a huge difference in the lives of marginalized women. He was teaching women from low-income backgrounds the art of weaving and offering them employment to better their livelihoods. To ensure that the products sustain the artisans, he does not use any machines in his factory. His story and the difference that he was making touched my heart and I knew right then that I wanted to be a part of it. Today, each scarf that SANI sells contributes towards these women’s financial freedom, their children’s education, and their health.
Some countries are notorious for cutting corners to cut costs. Since production is so far away, how can you be sure that every step of the process is transparent, fair, and sustainable?
We believe that the best way to get results is through a partnership where values are aligned. We have established a process in which SANI’s artisans understand that we sell a product that embodies social responsibility. The best practices of our manufacturing are promoted to be fair and equitable by the artisans who weave our products themselves. SANI is a flat structure where weavers partner with us to showcase their skills and make pashmina scarves in a sustainable manner. This story differentiates us, and the more profitable we become, the more dividends the company can give back for our artisans and weavers. The process is transparent and simple, yet truly effective.
In Nepal, women carry the financial burden of the families (whereas most countries it’s men). What more can you tell us about this to empower people to support Nepalese products?
Nepal lacks economic opportunities, especially for the marginalized women we commit to serve. The lack of jobs domestically is also the reason Nepali men go abroad to work as laborers. This has left many low-income families in Nepal under the dependence of women who are forced to both take care of home and provide financial stability. In SANI’s case, most of our weavers are single mothers who are the sole breadwinners for their family. I feel that as consumers we need to raise our awareness and knowledge of the products we consume. It is important to know the process of manufacturing as well as how well the companies treat their employees. Not only in Nepal, but throughout the world, there is a burgeoning set of entrepreneurs who thrive to make their brands deliver a social benefit. I encourage readers to be conscious shoppers who actively support such businesses so their spending also helps a social cause like that of SANI’s.
What are some of the most unique and beautiful skills that some of your artisans possess?
The art of using handlooms is becoming rare as most factories have switched to manufacturing via machines in bulk. SANI’s weavers are skilled in the traditional art of hand-weaving which they pass on to each other. Although SANI has a few designers with formal degrees, most of our artisans have no formal designer degrees but create beautiful pieces, some out of their imagination and collaboration. This makes our products truly unique.
While still somewhat exclusive, Pashmina scarves are quite popular but not all pashminas are created equal. What are the standout hallmarks of Sani scarves and throws?
There are many brands that are selling cashmere but what makes SANI different is our social mission described above. Beyond this, SANI stands out for its process. SANI brings to you high quality and genuine handwoven Pashmina products that are made using traditional looms with the focus to avoid machines and automation that could replace human labour. This ensures the sustainability of livelihoods for the weavers who make our products. With no compromise in quality, our process delivers beautifully handwoven scarves directly from the artisans in Nepal to our end customers. In doing so, we cut out the middle-men and preserve more margin for the weavers we strive to support. Our objective is to make luxury and quality affordable while simultaneously supporting local pashmina weavers.
Okay but it’s hot year-round in Asia, so who needs pashminas here?
Cashmere is great for winter. No doubt — but it works perfectly in Asia’s summers where indoor facilities are blasted with aircon (I’m cold!!!). Lightweight cashmere scarves are a great accessory to carry in your tiny purses in summer when you might be shopping in a mall or watching a movie on the weekends or just while working on your desk during the summer weekdays. Pashmina’s natural insulating property basically protects you from the temperature fluctuations of the metropolitan lifestyle and is a great way to add style and class to your outfit.
From your experience, what are some #LittleGreenSteps that people can abide by when it comes to shopping consciously?
For any change to happen it has to start from home. We have to educate ourselves to be socially and environmentally conscious proactively. In order to leave a low carbon footprint, we can invest some more time to understand the process involved in making the product that we consume. Baby steps can be taken such as carrying recyclable bags or opting for slow fashion by choosing quality over quantity. Actually, I take inspiration from how our past generations used to shop when options and resources were more limited. And lastly, maybe we can reflect more on how we can best spend our dollar at enterprises that deliver more than our personal needs.