Cashmere is one of the most sought-after fibers in the world. Its fine hairs are softer, lighter and can be up to three times more insulating than sheep wool. It’s been a prized material for centuries, but its quality comes at a cost, and a luxury cashmere jumper could cost you well over $500. So why is it so expensive? Cashmere doesn’t come from a sheep like you might think, but from the cashmere goat.
These goats are found across the Himalayas where temperatures can drop to minus 30 degrees, and their freezing cold habitat means they grow an incredibly thick, warm coat. It’s not the outer hair you can see that’s used for making garments, but the super soft coat just underneath it. Johnstons of Elgin has been making cashmere products since 1851, and to do that, they need a lot of goats.
- We are using the cashmere from about 1.2 million goats, and those goats are spread right over Outer Mongolia, China, a little bit in Afghanistan as well.
-There’s a reason so many goats are needed. While a sheep can produce at least three kilos of wool each year, a cashmere goat will only give you around 200 grams.
- So basically, this much cashmere from every goat. For a scarf, we could be working with the production of a single goat, but for a jumper, for example, you could be working with five, eight, 10 goats’ worth of cashmere.
- Because of the tiny amount each goat produces, the supply is severely limited, and the fibers can only be collected once a year. While sheep are sheared for their wool, cashmere goats are usually brushed to remove the soft hairs that molt in the spring. Even when you’ve harvested the fibers, the usable weight halves once it’s been stripped of grease, dirt, and thicker hairs. And despite its popularity, cashmere still only makes up 0.5% of the world’s total wool production. Once you have the pure cashmere, processing it takes a lot of work.
The fibers are first dyed to the right color and aerated to stop them clumping together. Cashmere softness means that it needs to be treated delicately throughout the whole process. Any chemicals or over processing will damage the fibers. The fibers are then carded, a process that detangles and lines up the hairs in thin sheets so that they can be spun into a yarn. The quality of cashmere is graded on its fineness and its length, and a high-quality individual cashmere hair can be as thin as 14 micrometers. When it’s finally ready, this dyed and spun yarn can then be used to make everything from jumpers to scarves.
- When you’re making a cashmere scarf, everybody thinks this is the most simple product in the world. And of course, when they come to the mill and they see how it’s actually done, they realize actually there’s a huge amount to it, and there’s an awful lot of hands and skilled work that goes into making that possible. So it is absolutely about the knowledge of the people, about the skills of the people, how you nurture this really delicate fiber through the process.
-Cheaper cashmere products have become hugely popular recently. These claim to offer the quality of cashmere for a lower price. Some may use a slightly lower grade of cashmere or different processing methods to make the end result more affordable, and while they are comparatively cheap, they’re still usually at least twice the price of wool. There have been extreme cases of mislabeling, too, and some supposedly 100% cashmere products have been found to contain yak hair or even rat fur. If you do find a really cheap product that claims to be cashmere, it may be too good to be true.
- There is nothing in the world like cashmere. I mean, there are other precious fibers or other fine fibers, but cashmere has great properties. It’s very strong. It is very warm. It’s very soft, and you can make from it anything from a very thick, robust, almost rug-like product through to very fine, wispy, cloud-like, very, very subtle pieces.
There are other precious fibers out there, there are other fibers that are as fine, but we can’t do as much with them.