Article by C. Elliott
Many people are surprised to learn that cashmere, like wool, actually comes from goats. A specific bread of Mongolian goats to be exact, that live high in the mountains surrounding the Gobi Desert. These “Capra Hircus Laniger” goats as they are called, actually have two coats; an outer lying coat that is very coarse and stiff (not anything you would want to use for a sweater), and an underlying or “underdown” coat that consists of a much finer fiber called cashmere. The Goats depend on the cashmere underdown layer to help keep them warm and insulated throughout the harsh mountain winters.
In the spring or “moulting” season the cashmere is either sheared or combed from the goats and then processed to remove the coarser hairs. The remaining fibers are then cleaned, dyed, and spun into yarn. In its final stages the cashmere yarn is either knit into garments, or woven into a heavier weight material that can be used to create luxurious overcoats, jackets, trousers, pajamas, scarves, blankets, and more.
The price of cashmere is affected by several factors. For one, the scarcity of the cashmere goat. Because the goats abide in such rough terrain it is difficult to breed and raise them – therefore their numbers are scarce. Secondly, the amount of cashmere fiber produced per goat is very minimal. In fact, it can take between 2-3 goats just to create enough fiber to produce one sweater. In addition, the process of removing and separating the cashmere fiber from the rougher top coat is often done by hand, which results in a very labor intensive and time consuming process.
When you notice a significant difference between the prices of two or more cashmere sweaters keep in mind the old saying: you get what you pay for.
The price in cashmere can vary based on its quality, origin, and color. Cashmere fiber is graded based on the fiber length and thickness. A longer, stronger fiber is easier to spin and more durable than cheaper, shorter fibers. Sweaters made out of superior cashmere are less likely to pill, and lose their shape when worn.
In addition the fiber’s origin may also affect the price. Originally cashmere was produced in China and Mongolia as mentioned before, but today it is commonly produced all across the globe (everywhere from Massachusetts, to Australia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, and Central Asian Republics) and qualities may vary based on the supplier.
Color dying cashmere can also effect its quality and price. In its natural state cashmere fiber can range in color from white and grey to brown. The purer “whiter” color is generally considered the most desirable and requires less processing to color (if it is colored at all). Fiber that has to be dyed may lose some of it’s softness.
The term “Ply” is another word for strand. The number of strands twisted together to make yarn is called the “ply of the yarn”. A single ply yarn is twisted in only one direction, so if it was knitted into a garment the garment would most likely have a bias or slanted pull to the knit. To counter this undesirable effect quality garments are usually made with a minimum of a 2-ply yarn. In a 2-ply yarn the strands are twisted in opposing directions and work together to balance each other out. Using the same method a manufacturer may spin 4, 6, or even 8+ strands together to create a bulkier multi-ply knit. This of course, requires more cashmere and is therefore, generally more expensive – though it is not necessarily an indication of quality.
Shopping for high quality cashmere over the internet can be a daunting task! With no way to touch test the material in person and really know what you are getting, how are you supposed to be able to make an informed decision? To help avoid disappointment Labellush.com recommends that you stick to well-known, brand name labels that have earned an excellent reputation for quality, and style.
Loro Piana operates in the luxury goods industry with the mission of providing uncompromised quality. For six generations, the company has been supplying the finest cashmere and wool fabrics to the most sophisticated and demanding clients – becoming the largest cashmere manufacturer and the biggest single purchaser of the world’s finest wools – and for the last twenty years has been offering exclusive lines for men, women and children, along with home furnishing, accessories, and gifts, distributed through a worldwide network of directly operated stores and specialty retailers.
Brioni, an independent family-owned company since 1945, is an exclusive brand of tailored clothing, made-to-measure service, and sportswear for men and women.
In 1989, TSE the cashmere label, was founded by Augustine Tse, supporting an idea that this luxury yarn, up to that point, had been greatly under-utilized. This beautiful raw material had been used very one-dimensionally, was very classic and expensive, and was perceived to be reserved only for the elite. The objective of the company was to incorporate this incredible material into all aspects of one’s life and make it more accessible to a broader audience. It was this modern adaptation of the traditional commodity that forever changed the luxury cashmere business.