Kashmir has long been renowned globally for its luxurious pashminas, a textile derived from the fine Pashm fiber traditionally produced by the Changpa nomads in Ladakh's Changthang region. While areas like Korzok and Samad were celebrated for their high-quality Pashm, Ladakh itself was not recognized for producing the finished textile. In 2016, Stanzin Minglak and Sonam Angmo, self-trained textile designers from Ladakh, set out to change this narrative by founding Lena (meaning Pashmina in the regional language of Bhoti), a women-led label dedicated to showcasing the unique pashminas of Ladakh.
Lena's founders, Minglak and Angmo, employ local techniques, such as using whorl-less drop spindles for spinning yarn and exclusively utilizing natural dyes sourced from local substances. The duo has successfully blended age-old techniques with a modern aesthetic, offering a range of products that now extend beyond pashmina to include sheep and yak wool. The Ladakhi pashmina crafted by Lena differs from the typical gossamer-thin versions. It is thicker, imparting a distinctive drape and fall when worn and providing a distinct identity to Ladakh's pashmina. The founders emphasize the importance of handmade, slow fashion, ensuring that every step of the production process, from cleaning to pressing, is done by hand.
As a significant number of men in the area engage in industry or service-related occupations, Lena found itself focusing on the training and employment of Ladakhi women. The founders observed that despite the women's skills, they were not motivated due to the limited income from their work. However, the introduction of pashmina proved to be more lucrative, motivating the women to not only continue their existing skills but also to acquire new ones. Initially starting with seven weavers, Lena has now expanded its workforce to employ 34 women.
Lena's core philosophy revolves around sustainable and slow fashion. The founders emphasize the use of local resources for dyeing, including marigold, walnut, and other natural substances. By collaborating with international stockists and designers, Lena has brought Ladakh's unique pashmina to a global audience while maintaining a focus on small quantities and high quality.
Lena's standalone store in Leh is the exclusive retail outlet for its products, which range from shawls to mufflers. The label's commitment to sustainability is evident in its use of sustainable colours and the incorporation of Ladakh's time-honoured traditions into the production process. Through Lena, Minglak and Angmo have not only shifted the narratives around Ladakh's pashmina by making sure the territory is known for its finished textiles and not just the export of its most important resource, but have also provided economic independence and empowerment to Ladakhi women, ensuring the continued legacy of their cultural heritage.
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