Cashmere is Kicking up a Storm in More Ways Than One
With sweater weather officially upon us, there are a lot of questions about how ethical it is to wear fabrics that keep us warm, such as angora, alpaca, and one of the most luxurious wools of them all, cashmere. Cashmere is considered a luxury fiber for its softness and durability and a closet staple for those that can afford it. Polyester is worth about 63 cents per pound, wool is one dollar per pound and cashmere is about $20 per pound. and the
A lot of cashmere is organic, but not all of it is environmentally friendly nor produces without any cruelty to animals. Mongolian cashmere is claimed to be the finest. The numbers in Mongolian herds have more than quadrupled in recent years. Mongolia is a nation sandwiched between the two superpowers of China and Russia. Coupled with China, it produces 90 percent of the world’s cashmere. Partly because of demand from the rising middle class in China and the fast reproduction cycle of the goats themselves, there are way too many goats and not enough grasslands. Goats have sharp hooves and voracious appetites that wreck havoc on the land by eating everything, roots and all, which leaves nothing to anchor down the sand and slow replenishment. This is causing massive dust storms in the Gobi desert that have made it hard to breathe. The winds of the Gobi reach as far away as California, so think about coupling that with climate change and pollution. With the decrease in grasslands, animals like gazelles and khulan are dying as well as the mythical snow leopard.
The luxury group, Kering, and NGOs like New York based NAADAM are working with herders to produce higher quality fibers by having less goats. Having a higher quality will allow the herders to demand for higher prices. For consumers, even with the increase in cost for the raw produce, cashmere can be more affordable when brands work directly with the herders and cut the middle man out.
Here are a few things to know about cashmere:
Grade A cashmere (the softest) is 14-15 microns thick and measures 30-34 cm long. A human hair is 40-50 microns.
Combing the hair as opposed to shearing is less stressful on the goat and a more traditional way of procuring fibers.
All cashmere pills. The longer the fibers, the less times they’ll pill after they’re cleaned. To make the cashmere softer, some cheaper brands wash the fibers more during manufacturing, but this causes it to pill more.
A jersey stitch like J. Crew's or Unqlo's is very fast to make, which is one of the reasons why it's cheaper. If you use a cable or waffle stitch and knit it by hand, it takes more time to make, so it's more expensive. Embellishments or weaving a sweater with no seams like Patmos' sweaters make the $50-700 price tag.
Brands like White & Warren and Patagonia are using deadstock of discarded cashmere pieces.
The best way to wash cashmere is by hand using shampoo and rolling it in a towel to squeeze out the excess water before air drying flat.
Here are a few of our favorite cashmere pieces:
This M. Patmos Hutton Shirtale V-neck is handmade in Nepal, $595. MPATMOS.com
NAADAM is an NGO that works directly with Mongolian herders for pieces like this turtleneck dress that is "heavenly soft", $195. NAADAM.co
WHITE + WARREN has used reclaimed cashmere sweaters to create the perfect cozy throw, $595 (sale now for $395. WHITEANDWARREN.com
The Elder Statesman creates in small limited quantities by sourcing Mongolian cashmere and working with artisans in Central America or their workshop in L.A, $3,355. ELDER-STATESMAN.com
Patagonia uses recycled cashmere in this crew neck, $199, PATAGONIA.com