Cashmere is as Scottish as clans and kilts - really! A visit to Edinburgh in the past week reminded me just how much the city and its tourist industry makes of Cashmere scarves and similar. Towards the top end of the Royal Mile, as you approach the entrance to Edinburgh Castle, every other shop is proclaiming that it sells the best 'made in Scotland' Cashmere goods. One of the posher shops on what was, as so often up there, a slightly misty morning, boasted of its stock of 'Fabulously Scottish Cashmere'.
And yes, for 'Cashmere' read 'Kashmir'. So, back in the nineteenth century, Kashmir was generally known in the west as Cashmere. Its fine shawls made with goats' wool were prized in western Europe. So much so that from about the 1830s onwards, small mills in the south of Scotland started making scarves, jumpers (aka sweaters) and similar fashion accoutrements from imported Cashmere wool. And that's what they are still doing.
One of the biggest knitwear factories, at Hawick in the Scottish Borders, employs more than 200 people and produces 90,000 jumpers a year - almost all of them made from Cashmere.
Most of the goat's wool now comes from China and Mongolia - though a little of the highest quality pashmina wool continues to be produced in Kashmir itself. And the market? Well in one of those 'coals to Newcastle' ironies, Cashmere scarves made from Chinese wool and sold in Scotland often find their way back to ... China.
Edinburgh city centre is choc-a-bloc with Chinese tourists, many of them high spending. And one of the shops that specialises in Cashmere good had a sign in its window - they are recruiting Mandarin-speaking sales assistants.
Mind you, a few years back a business on Edinburgh's Royal Mile that boasted of selling Scottish-made Cashmere was fined £4,500 when it was discovered that the goods on its shelves had been woven in, yes, China!
All told, Scotland's Cashmere industry is worth about £200 million a year, and for a small place - Scotland's population is about the same as that of the Kashmir Valley - that's an awful lot of finely woven, made in Scotland, money.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
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