For my senior capstone project this past year, I studied Sustainable Fashion vs. Fast Fashion. I spent hours reading articles and watching documentaries about the devastating effects that major clothing companies have on our environment. From polluting what were once pristine rivers, to using copious amounts of water and energy to produce cheap clothing (both in cost and quality) that end up in landfills after a few wears, most well-known brands do it all. Not to mention engaging in child labor, providing unsafe factory conditions, and physically, sexually and emotionally abusing their workers. It’s almost impossible to avoid contributing to this toxic cycle in the consumer society that we live in, but there are alternatives that are becoming increasingly popular and accessible. These companies are sustainable; meaning they produce clothing from recycled materials, are transparent about the resources they use, and treat their workers humanely. After learning about these atrocities, and the alternatives, I have made it a lifelong goal of mine to shop as ethically and sustainably as possible. So when our bus of fifteen pulled off the side of the road onto a dirt parking lot, I was overjoyed.
We had arrived at Lena Pashmina, a completely woman owned and run business based outside of Leh, Ladakh. Sonam and Minglak walked confidently into the small office we had piled into and introduced themselves as the founders of this company. They explained in perfect English that the pashminas they create are all spun, twisted and woven by hand, and the raw pashmina is sourced from the wool of sheep from nomadic tribes from Changtang region in the east of Ladakh. The pashminas come in the three natural shades of pashmina as well as many different beautiful colors, dyed with plant or bug resin, and are woven both at their studio and in the homes of local Ladakhi women. Most other pashminas are factory made and the thread is infused with synthetics in order to withstand weaving using harsh machines. If you were to pick up a handmade pashmina and a machine made pashmina, you would immediately be able to tell which ones were made slowly, with care, and which had just come off the assembly line.
Not only is Lena (which means pashmina in Ladakhi) breaking the norm with their sustainably made scarves and shawls, they also are throwing a wrench in a typically male-dominated industry. They are providing jobs for women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to work because of household responsibilities and expectations. Against many odds, they are only growing, and their pashminas are available at stores in Boston and Hong Kong.
These pashminas lean more towards the expensive side, but will last much longer than one season. Almost every person in our group purchased a scarf or a shawl, (or two, or three) and as we drove out of the parking lot back onto the main road, we were warmer, happier, and (hopefully) turning away from the cycle of Fast Fashion.