Kashmir, cashmere: there’s a reason they sound the same – the first being the birthplace of the latter. But much cashmere found on the high street isn’t the real thing, mixed instead with cheaper fibres such as merino to make it more affordable.
Launched 2014, ethical brand Trebene – which means “three sisters” in Kashmiri – has a single mission: to reignite an understanding and passion for the fabric’s rich heritage and to preserve the ancient craft and skills that go into making it. Trebene‘s scarves are handcrafted over a ten-step, 30-day process, which has been perfected over generations.
Trebene’s founder is Kashmiri-born consumer consultant Bushera Bashir, who co-launched a grassroots youth content creation agency & led operations at Richard Branson’s Centre of Entrepreneurship in South Africa. Here, she talks through us through a scarf from the brand’s second collection, called Afro Zen.
“When you think of Kashmir, you might think of conflict, but historically it’s a place where artisanal products are created, including cashmere. The affordable substitutes that have come through are a cause of intense frustration for me. Kashmir is losing its weaving culture because the younger generation don’t want to it anymore. Because of that frustration, as well as my interest in the country’s culture and history, I felt compelled to start a brand that brings it altogether.
I wanted to create a brand that was very ethical in its practices, which was about the preservation of cashmere, rather than a fashion brand, so I asked myself ‘how do we take this art form – but in a very fashionable way, with bold, contemporary designs?’
This scarf is called Creative Collisions and tells the story of Africa and Asia [between which Bushera divides her time]. Bursts of colours [work] with symmetry and clean lines, inspired by Asia. It was one of the first to be designed for the Afro Zen collection and represents the creative collision of minds, thoughts, experiences and stories that are represented by each continent – so different and yet so in harmony … “
We work closely with 140 weavers, from about 25 different families, scattered across areas traditionally known for their weaving communities. Weaving in Kashmir is a male-dominated industry. The men weave, the women are mostly involved in spinning.
One weaver, for example, is an engineering student who inherited his art from his father. They have a handloom at home, an heirloom they have carried with them through generations.
We procure fabric from nomad tribesman. Because the goats are their livelihood, the tribesman treat them really well. They make cheese, yoghurt, a lot of dairy products and they sell the cashmere fibres. These aren’t factory farms, these are herds wandering through their natural environments.
Workers’ children don’t have access to quality education. We invest a certain percentage of our profits into giving them that access, investing back into the community. If one of these kids wanted to join the brand in 10 years time, that, for me, would be a success story … “