What is Cashmere?


what is cashmere

Cashmere, often heralded as the “fabric of kings,” is a luxurious, soft, and warm fiber derived from the undercoat of cashmere goats. Known for its exceptional quality and feel, cashmere has been prized for centuries and is a staple in high-end fashion and textile industries. Here’s an in-depth look at what cashmere is, its origins, production process, and why it remains so highly valued.

Origins and History

The name “cashmere” originates from the region of Kashmir in the northern part of the Indian subcontinent, where the fabric was first produced and woven. However, cashmere goats are primarily found in the high plateaus of Asia, particularly in Mongolia, China, India, Iran, and Afghanistan. These goats have adapted to the harsh, cold climates of these regions, growing a soft, fine undercoat beneath their coarser outer hair to keep warm.

The Cashmere Goat

Cashmere fiber comes from the undercoat of the cashmere goat, scientifically known as Capra hircus laniger.

These goats produce two types of hair: the coarse outer guard hair and the soft, fine undercoat, which is the source of cashmere. The undercoat is naturally shed each spring and is collected through a process of combing or shearing.

Production Process

Collection: During the spring molting season, the soft undercoat is collected. This can be done by hand-combing, which is labor-intensive but yields higher quality fibers, or by shearing, which is quicker but may mix coarser hairs with the fine cashmere.

De-Hairing: The collected fibers are then de-haired to separate the fine undercoat from the coarse guard hairs.

This step is crucial to ensure the softness and quality of the final product.

Spinning and Weaving: The fine cashmere fibers are spun into yarn, which can then be woven or knitted into various textiles, including sweaters, scarves, shawls, and more. The spinning and weaving processes are meticulous to maintain the integrity of the delicate fibers.

Characteristics of Cashmere

Softness: Cashmere is renowned for its exceptionally soft texture, which feels gentle and luxurious against the skin. This softness is due to the fine diameter of the fibers, typically between 14 to 19 microns.

Warmth: Despite being lightweight, cashmere is incredibly warm, providing insulation against cold temperatures. This is because the fibers are crimped, creating tiny air pockets that trap warmth.

Lightweight: Cashmere garments are often lightweight and comfortable, making them ideal for layering without adding bulk.

Durability: With proper care, cashmere can be quite durable. It tends to become softer and more comfortable with age, making it a long-lasting investment.

Caring for Cashmere

To maintain the quality and longevity of cashmere garments, proper care is essential. Here are some tips:

Hand Wash or Dry Clean: While some cashmere items can be machine washed on a delicate cycle, hand washing in cold water with a mild detergent is generally recommended. Avoid wringing or twisting the fabric.

Dry Flat: After washing, reshape the garment and lay it flat to dry. Hanging cashmere can cause it to stretch out of shape.

Storage: Store cashmere items folded in a cool, dry place. Using cedar blocks or lavender sachets can help repel moths, which are attracted to natural fibers.

The Value of Cashmere

The high value of cashmere is attributed to its limited supply and labor-intensive production process. Each goat produces only a few ounces of usable cashmere per year, making the fiber relatively rare. Additionally, the meticulous care required to process and weave the fibers adds to the cost. However, the superior quality, comfort, and timeless appeal of cashmere make it a worthwhile investment for many.

Cashmere is a luxurious, high-quality fiber that offers unparalleled softness, warmth, and durability. Its rich history, unique production process, and exceptional characteristics ensure that it remains a sought-after material in the world of fashion and textiles.

Sustainability and Ethical Considerations

In recent years, the sustainability and ethical considerations surrounding cashmere production have gained increased attention. Concerns have been raised about the environmental impact and animal welfare practices in the cashmere industry.

Environmental Impact

The rising demand for cashmere has led to an increase in the population of cashmere goats, particularly in Mongolia and China. This population boom has had several environmental repercussions:

Overgrazing: Cashmere goats graze on grass and shrubs, and their sharp hooves can cause significant damage to the soil. Overgrazing leads to land degradation, desertification, and loss of biodiversity. In some regions, this has become a critical issue, affecting local ecosystems and communities.

Climate Change: Land degradation contributes to climate change by reducing the land’s ability to sequester carbon. Additionally, the processing and transportation of cashmere have associated carbon footprints.

Animal Welfare

Ensuring the welfare of cashmere goats is another important consideration. Ethical concerns include:

Shearing Practices: While combing is considered less stressful for goats, shearing can be more efficient. However, improper shearing techniques can cause injuries and stress to the animals.

Living Conditions: The quality of life for cashmere goats varies widely. Ensuring that goats are raised in humane conditions with adequate food, water, and shelter is crucial for ethical cashmere production.

Sustainable and Ethical Cashmere

To address these concerns, some brands and organizations are working towards more sustainable and ethical cashmere production. This includes:

Sustainable Grazing Practices: Implementing rotational grazing and other sustainable land management practices to prevent overgrazing and land degradation.

Certification Programs: Programs like the Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA) and the Good Cashmere Standard (GCS) certify cashmere producers who adhere to strict environmental and animal welfare standards.

Transparency and Traceability: Increasing transparency in the supply chain allows consumers to make informed choices. Brands that provide information about the source of their cashmere and the practices of their suppliers help promote ethical and sustainable production.

Cashmere in Fashion

Cashmere remains a staple in luxury fashion due to its unparalleled qualities. High-end designers and brands frequently use cashmere in their collections, offering everything from classic sweaters and cardigans to elegant accessories and outerwear. The timeless appeal of cashmere lies in its versatility; it can be dressed up or down and is suitable for various occasions and climates.

Innovations in Cashmere

The cashmere industry is also seeing innovations aimed at enhancing its sustainability and performance:

Blends and Treatments: Blending cashmere with other fibers, such as silk, wool, or even recycled materials, can improve durability and reduce the environmental impact. Advanced treatments can also enhance the fabric’s properties, such as adding water resistance or increasing softness.

Recycled Cashmere: Recycled cashmere is gaining popularity as a more sustainable alternative. This involves collecting and processing post-consumer cashmere garments or production waste into new yarns, reducing waste and conserving resources.

Cashmere is a luxurious fiber that combines softness, warmth, and durability, making it a coveted material in fashion and textiles. Its rich history and unique production process contribute to its high value. However, with growing awareness of the environmental and ethical challenges associated with cashmere production, the industry is evolving towards more sustainable and humane practices. By supporting certified and transparent brands, consumers can enjoy the luxury of cashmere while contributing to a more sustainable and ethical future.

As the fashion industry continues to innovate and address these challenges, cashmere’s allure is likely to endure, ensuring that this timeless material remains a symbol of elegance and sophistication for generations to come.