THE SHAHTOOSH

Now for something COMPLETELY different. We’re all working hard to reduce our plastic, and our carbon footprint, and now and then we need a break from being virtuous. Besides, I don’t want this blog to get too preachy, so here’s a piece of SYDN I hope you never have to worry about. And I think it’s pretty fascinating.

Okay. Think of the softest pashmina you ever felt. Nice, wasn’t it? Soft, warm, and oh so caressing. Imagine if it was quite a bit softer, softer and finer. That’s not a pashmina, it’s a shahmina, made from even finer fibres than a pashmina. Gorgeous. OMG, can something so fine be THAT warm?

Now imagine it finer and softer still. As fine as the thinnest, flimsiest silk and yet warmer by far. Finer even than the softest vicuña woven for the King of the Aztecs. So fine that a huge shawl can be pulled through a pinkie ring.

That, my friends, is a Shahtoosh. The word gossamer was surely invented to describe it. Made from the finest fibres in the world, plucked from the beard and belly of Chiru – a Tibetan antelope. You have to be a master weaver to be able to handle those unbelievably delicate fibres. Naturally, rich people love ’em.

The innocent Chiru on the Hoh Xil Natural Reserve in Tibet. Before we all give up tourism, I would love to travel out there with https://www.tibettravel.org/ to see these animals on the roof of the world.

I’m rich, I want one!

Sorry, you can’t have one. It’s illegal to sell or even own one in most countries. This is because the Shahtoosh is the textile equivalent of the Elephant’s Tusk, or the Ocelot Fur Coat. Just as it takes more than one ocelot to make a coat, it takes between three and five hides to make one shawl. You see, the endangered Chiru has to be killed for its coat. No, the fur can’t be sheared or combed, the animal must be killed. Deaded. Deprived of life. Just for its underhair.

Why can’t you breed them?

The Chinese have tried, but it’s been a complete failure. The Chiru have very poor survival rates in captivity. They breed at incredibly high altitudes which humans cannot manage for long periods of time. It’s life at these high altitudes which makes them develop their super-thick coats, and they need an enormous amount of space to forage for food in such a hostile environment.

You can actually see these remarkable animals in Tibet if you go with tibetravel.org

Any relaxation in the law makes it a great deal harder to enforce the prohibition on making, selling or owning a Shahtoosh. Not even the finest forensic examination could tell whether the shawl came from a wild or captive animal. Just to clarify – pashminas and shahminas are mainly made from the hair of the Changthangi, or Cashmere goat. This is perfectly acceptable because the goat sheds its coat in spring and can be combed. The Shahtoosh can only be made from the fleece of the Chiru and this animal cannot be sheared or combed. And as these animals are protected, they must of necessity be poached.

So legalisation and herding would undoubtedly lead to a rapid decline in the population of the Chiru because forensics wouldn’t be able to tell if the animals were from herds or from poaching. The bitter irony is that captive breeding stimulates poaching. Why go to all the bother of trying to raise herds and live in such an inhospitable climate, when you can just take a smart hunting rifle with telescopic sights and pick off a few animals to ake home?

Ok, it’s a niche piece of SYDN. But one day, you may come across a Shahtoosh and I guarantee that you will recognise it now you’ve read this far.

My encounter with a Shahtoosh

We had a very wealthy old lady round to supper, a friendly acquaintance of my other half. I didn’t know her well, but she’d donated heavily to a charitable project he was involved in, and supper was our way of thanking her. As she was leaving, I picked up her ‘shawl’ to hand it to her, and my jaw dropped. It almost floated into my hands. I was horrified.

“How many animals died for this?” I said, without thinking.

She had the grace to look embarrassed.

“Don’t ask!” she said. “I didn’t know when I bought it.”

There was nothing more to be said, so I handed it to her quietly. She was our guest, she was in her very late 70s, she’d been incredibly generous elsewhere, and I wasn’t going to bring five rare antelopes back to life by haranguing an old lady.

She’s now been dead for some years, and her Shahtoosh probably went to the charity shop. I hope someone got it for a tenner and it’s been keeping them warm all these years later. It would be horrible to think that five antelope died for their coats to end up in the tip.

But I shall never forget that wonderful, ravishing fabric. I felt like Edmund in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe when he eats the White Witch’s Turkish Delight. I wanted – no, I lusted – after one of my own. But I will never own one.

Still being made…

Yes, I’m sorry to say they are still being made secretly in Kashmir because they are in high demand. Rich people love them – you know, the kind of people who instal a gold toilet in their bathroom. And it’s MUCH easier to get away with than a mink coat because (a) not many people know about Shahtooshes and (b) they just look like a beautiful fine bit of fabric.

Sometimes human beings are so disappointing.

What you will save…

Online research tells me that these tender stoles sell for about £4,000-£5,000.

As lovely as any antelope…

My beloved companion, wee Piper. Going a bit grey like her mother.

Footnotes

Picture credits. I couldn’t find any snaps of Chirus on free websites, so I snuck the pics from the https://www.tibettravel.org/ site. And no, I don’t get a kickback if you do book a holiday with them! The scarves at the top are mine, some are pashminas, some aren’t, but I needed something colourful.

I am researching something serious for next time. Keep the faith, and keep sharing.

22 thoughts on “THE SHAHTOOSH

  1. Fascinating As Ever ! (New group name !) Can’t stand animal sacrifice for vanity. Thanks for highlighting. Keep up the good work 😁

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  2. I had never heard of these beautiful animals. Thank you for teaching me about them. We don’t live in the habitat they do. They need their hide and beautiful coat, humans do not.

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  3. Thanks for enlightening me on this subject – learn something new everyday! Keep up the well informed research – I know it takes a lot of hard work – and fitting it in with the tour (which was amazing btw). Love the picture of Piper sitting in the “regal” chair!

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  4. I think the severity of the laws against poaching have helped the species, actually. I take nothing as gospel, but it did seem to be mildly encouraging news for the Chiru.

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  5. Dilly – have you considered a Shetland Lace wedding ring shawl (so called because they can be pulled through a wedding ring)?

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  6. This is surely an example of the best being the enemy of the good. We don’t need the best of everything, especially when it endangers other occupiers of this planet. If we all were content with basic needs satisfied, we would all be happier. As it is more and more activity is aimed at satisfying the heightened desires of the rich. It is 18th century France.

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    • Indeed – added to that, we have the democratisation of luxury and the ‘because you’re worth it’ mentality infecting the rest of us – which in turn means that the rich have to seek out more and more absurdly exclusive luxuries so that they don’t have to use the same things as the rest of us plebs – and the poor old planet is suffering as a result. I thought this piece was worth writing about if only to raise this kind of debate – thanks so much for contributing.

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  7. Dearest Dillie- You are my current chosen university! (and, after all these years, Leicester would gladly un-alumni me, possibly with a grant!). Seriously, what an interesting, illuminating, yet devastating article.

    On a lighter note, when I saw the title, I assumed that there was someone now manufacturing a bio-degradeable, liberty-patterned, multi-use toilet wipe to cut down on all that bog roll going into the fatbergs.
    Oh, do you mean what we used to call a flannel, Krista? Err, probably, but a Shatoosh sounds more upmarket.
    Note to self. Remove from hook on side of cistern when grandchildren visit.

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  8. Thank you so much for taking the time in your busy schedule to “spread the word”. I’d never heard of such scarves – nor the animals – before. I probably don’t mix in the “right” circles. Ha ha! Loved the show (in Birmingham). x

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    • Mercifully, I don’t mix in those circles either. I just found myself on the inside of one of those circles one time… and promptly backed out again!

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  9. “…am researching something serious for next time.”

    Dear lovely Dillie ~ but this was something serious. Obscure for most of us, but right and good to have spoken up for these lovely creatures. Thank you, I adore learning the shit you don’t think I need! Cheers to you (and your marvellous troop!). Cheers!
    AP
    From Virginia,
    The Former Colonies, and
    Presently: a very very LOST “colony”

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  10. I have to agree with Sent by Krista…I thought it was a posh derriere wiping thing…I saw the word toosh, brain though bum!

    Having read the piece, I had heard of shahtooshes previously but hadn’t realised that those gorgeous creatures were killed for their coats.

    It is entirely senseless, needless and another (as if more were needed) example of the inhumanity of the human race.

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  11. My last trip out, pre-COVID, was to see Fascinating Aida in Southend where you encouraged us to think more about the environment. Since then, I’ve discovered EcoVibe (thanks to you) and I’m really making an effort to reduce my use of single use plastics. You have a convert! Thankfully, I was less inclined to take up dogging 😉

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