There are many unsustainable trends in the world of fashion, but shahtoosh definitely takes the cake. Shawls or scarves made of shahtoosh, the short and warm fleece of the rare Tibetan antelope, can be sold for as much as $20,000 for a single piece, which requires the poaching of three to five animals.

Tibetan antelope, which are found only in the Changtang area of Tibet, get poached for their fur which is then smuggled into the Kashmir region of India, where artisans uweave it into shawls.

According to National Geographic, although there may have once been over a million Tibetan antelope, by the 1990s that number had fallen to 75,000. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the controls introduced in China in the early 1990s and the ban of the trade of fleece in India helped the species to recover. But between 2015 and 2018, Swiss customs officers confiscated the equivalent of over 800 Tibetan antelope from travelers.

Since Switzerland is a hotspot for the trade of shahtoosh, border and customs authorities are on high alert. When they do discover that a traveler is transporting shahtoosh through the border, they confiscate the scarf and the owner is forced to pay thousands of dollars in fines.

The problem isn’t just confined to Europe. In 1994, $100,000 worth of shahtoosh shawls were sold illegally at a US charity auction to raise money for cancer patients, sparking the country’s first criminal prosecution for shahtoosh sales. But knowledge of their illegality isn’t as widespread as you might think. In 2017, Martha Stewart said that when she travels, “I always take a very comfortable shawl, a shahtoosh. They weigh almost nothing, and they’re as warm as a down comforter.”

In an effort to help the Tibetan antelope population, China has expanded the Changtang National Nature Reserve where the animals calve. In 2016, the IUCN changed the animal’s classification from “endangered” to “near threatened,” estimating that between 100,000 and 150,000 remain in the wild, although the exact number is difficult to determine.

H/T: National Geographic