When you wear a Cashmere item, the name of the material conjures-up softness, warmth and quality. Human hair has a thickness of between 50 to 70 microns; with Cashmere, the softness and high insulation qualities, without the bulk of sheep’s wool, are because the fineness of the fibers that range from 14 to 19 microns. The natural colors are brown, gray or white.
Nature’s Best Fleece
Cashmere wool’s name originated from goats in the mountainous regions of Kashmir in Pakistan and India. Today, few items are produced from India’s Kashmir province, with the main suppliers coming from China, Mongolia, Afghanistan and Iran. China is the biggest producer.
The Capra Hircus goat, also called the Pashmani goat, lives in the Tibetan highlands, the Himalayas and Mongolia. It lives at altitudes of 4,000 meters where the temperature can fall to -40°C for up to six months. Although Cashmere was first processed in the Kashmir region, the most authentic wool is sourced from the uplands of Tibet and Ladakh.
The Pashmani goat’s coarse outer coat of wool is called the guard hair. The softer down used for clothing is found around the neck and underbelly. The fleece is collected during the spring when the goats naturally molt. The soft undercoat is combed out or the fleece is sheared. A goat’s fleece weighs about 450 grams of which 200 grams are fine Cashmere; a sweater uses the wool from three to five goats. ;
After collection, the wool is sorted and scoured by hand and washed to remove dirt and grease. Afterwards, the fleece is dehaired to remove any dandruff and the coarser guard hair, and then spun into yarn.
From Emperors to Aristocracy
Although the cashmere fabric attracted demand from Europeans in the 19th Century, the first record of Cashmere wool was made by Marco Polo in Mongolia during the 13th Century. From the 16th Century to the early 1900s, Kashmiri shawls were popular with Indian and Iranian emporers during religious and political ceremonies. One of these shawls was brought back to Scotland in the late 1700s by textile merchant Joseph Dawson, who soon began importing the material to make garments for the well-to-do ladies of the British upper-class. Today, the oldest working Cashmere clothing factory, established in 1797, is in Elgin, Scotland.
Why is Cashmere in Demand?
Compared to the population of domestic sheep, the number of Cashmere wool-producing goats is significantly fewer, meeting about one percent of produced sheep wool items. The limited supply of the textile partly explains the expense, but why is Cashmere more luxurious than sheep’s wool?
The insulation qualities of Cashmere are eight times superior to normal wool. Yet, the fine fibers provide extremely soft and lightweight clothing. High air content within the fibers gives a silkier texture compared to the prickly feeling of the coarser sheep’s wool. The softness also improves with age.
For comfort, Cashmere clothes have natural flexibility and stretchiness while remaining wrinkle-free. The fibers have a high moisture content so that when the humidity changes, so do the insulation properties, breathing to maintain comfort if the climate becomes warmer.
Other properties of the cloth include fire resistance and hypoallergic qualities, making it ideal for young children’s clothes and winter cashmere baby hats and mittens.
Good quality Cashmere is made from long strands of sheared sheep. If shorter hair is used, the garment can pill and shed after washing or friction. If the item is of a tight knit, the item will retain its shape and last longer. Another test for the quality of a garment is to test the weight. The heavier items are made from double stranded yarn for warmth and durability. Finally, read the label before buying. Items identified as Cashmere blend often contain 10 percent or less unless the different material percentages are listed.
The quality of Cashmere is world-renowned. The craftsmanship and traditional production methods, integrated with the sustainable production methods, mean that demand will always remain higher than supply for this premium fiber.