Advent of summer in Pakistan marks the craze for designer lawns but ambitious designers would not just sit around their grates in winters to plan summer campaigns. Owing to their passion to sell and their customers’ urge to buy, the winter cloths and shawls too have started to sell like hot cakes.

Pashmina and wool may make any woman’s eyes sparkle but shahtoosh definitely would make their jaws drop and designer shahtoosh means making the ladies go crazy. No wonder, when Toosh Collection was launched by famous Nida Azwer, it made headlines. However things didn’t sail as smoothly as were expected. Concerned Citizens of Pakistan came forward to protest against the shawls which have sent the species of Tibetan antelope on the verge of extinction.

Literally meaning the “king of wool,” Shahtoosh has emerged as the new fashion statement in Pakistan. However rage for Shahtoosh is not new. It is one of the evils which we inherited from our “not so” glorious past. Known for its extravagant style, Mughal era saw the rise of toosh to the status of Shah of the shawls. Sahtoosh made its way to the regal wardrobes in sixteenth century. Many say that the ruler of Kashmir Mirza Muhammad Haider Dughlat introduced the weaving of shahtoosh in the region which provided work opportunity to many fine weavers.

The shawl is woven by the down hair of Chiru or Tibetian antelope. The hair are as thin as 9 to 11 micrometer and the shawl which is made is thin enough to pass through a finger ring. Shahtoosh shawls also known as the “ring shawls” did not fail to attract the attention of colonial masters of subcontinent who were lured by the colours and spices of the region. Soon the shahtoosh shawls became global fashion statement. But this royalty did not come from free. 

All the dexterity of workers, finesse of the product aside, one shahtoosh shawl is tainted with the blood of at least three Chirus. The consequence is that the population of Chirus which accounted for 1 million in the 20th century dropped to estimated 75,000 in 21st century. This shook the conscience of the people around. The passing and signing of conventions made wearing and processing shahtoosh illegal. Anyone wearing or processing it is liable to be arrested. In Pakistan, however, law and order situation is as endangered as the species of Chiru. Consequently nobody came in the way of shahtoosh sale. And who can dare think stalling the sales when the wives of influential bureaucrats and politicians are ready to buy it in black. Moreover even the ban on shahtoosh was used a tool to seduce class-conscious customer who were ready to pay even much higher price to possess the rarity.

Last Saturday witnessed the protests outside Nida Azwer’s outlet who had launched her “Toosh collection” this year. The animal rights organizations were enraged that the designer came out loud selling a product which was illegal. Nida Azwer denounced the use of shahtoosh saying that there was no shahtoosh in toosh shawls. The designer partially satisfied the campaigners who say that now her customers might be seeking the answers.

According to Ali Hassan Habib, DG WWF-Pakistan, “selling the products by branding shahtoosh or toosh label is illegal under law as it uses the name of an endangered species to promote the product.”

Nontheless the controversy of shahtoosh free toosh shawl is expected to fuel the sales because the so called elite class has always tried to flaunt their taste by possessing what is rare and hard to possess and the recent events have boasted this status of shahtoosh.

A thing worth mentioning is that diameter of shahtoosh wool is 10-12 micron while that of pashmina is 12-16 micron. Pashmina is warmer and more beautiful. It is less expensive too. But shahtoosh is more popular because of its rarity. It is just another instance explaining the “diamond-water paradox” of Adam Smith. The rarer a thing is, the dearer it seems; thus making it more expensive.