What is cashmere?
If you are here, it is because that you, too, have asked the same question we asked ourselves a long time ago.
Today, after many years of research and experience, we would like to share our knowledge with you.
Cashmere: the word itself expresses luxury.
Why is this?
How did it reach this status?
Is it just for its price?
Perhaps. But we believe that it's more than that. And, of course, much of it has to do with the scarcity of this magnificent fiber and the lengthy production process it must undergo before it is transformed into a fine quality finished product.
So, what is cashmere?
Cashmere is a precious fiber obtained from the undercoat of cashmere goats, select breeds of the species Capra hircus. For thousands of years, cashmere has been produced in Mongolia, Nepal and Kashmir: all areas in which these breeds are present.
The first references to woolen garments are found in texts surviving from between the 3rd century BC and the 11th century AD, but it is not clear how the cashmere industry was born. The traditional belief is that the industry was founded by 15th-century ruler of Kashmir, Zain-ul-Abidin; however other sources state that cashmere crafts were introduced by Mir Ali Hamadani in the 14th century when, upon reaching Kashmir along with 700 craftsmen from Persia, he discovered the soft wool produced by the goats he found in the area. Such sources state that Hamadani made socks from this wool and presented them to king of Kashmir, suggesting that they start a shawl weaving industry using this fine raw material.
In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the industry was thriving, exporting shawls from Kashmir to Western nations, such as Britain and France. The popularity of cashmere among the European aristocracy contributed to the growing demand of this fiber, further reinforcing its value.
The first European country to import and commercially spin raw cashmere is thought to be France. The imported wool was cleaned and de-haired, then carded and combed using the same methods used for worsted yarn spinning. It was not too long before the first herds of cashmere goats were established in Europe, first in France, in 1818, then in England, in 1823.
By 1830, the production of cashmere shawls, made using French yarn, was a leading industry in Scotland. For this reason, the Scottish Board of Trustees for the Encouragement of Arts and Manufactures decided to offer a large reward to the first entrepreneur able to spin cashmere in Scotland using the French system. In 1831, Captain Charles Stuart Cochrane gathered the necessary information during a visit in Paris and received a Scottish patent for the process. He then sold his patent to Henry Houldsworth & Sons, who began producing cashmere yarn the following year and, in 1833, won the reward.
« Cashmere has been traded for centuries,
and its value has never diminished throughout the ages. »
Learning more about this precious fiber will help understand why.
Cashmere wool comes from select breeds of the Capra hircus.
These goats produce a double fleece, consisting of:
- an undercoat of soft and fine hair;
- a coarse outer coating, called guard hair.
It is the fine undercoat which will be further processed and sold as cashmere. For this reason, it must be de-haired in order to separate the two intermingled layers and extract the best part.
After de-hairing, the extracted fibers are finally ready to be dyed. While still in its natural color, cashmere wool is remarkably soft and extremely light; to touch it is a singular sensation each aficionado should experience at least once.
Cashmere is collected in the spring, between early March and late May, when cashmere goats naturally shed their winter coat. This process may be assisted by breeders: using a comb, locks of fiber are delicately pulled from the fleece, without any harm to the animal.
Once the locks of fiber have been gathered, they are washed and de-haired. The soft hair from the undercoat is then selected and further processed for high-end use, while the coarse upper coat is used in the production of brushes, interfacings and other non-apparel items.
The finest cashmere fibers have an average diameter of about 14.5 microns, and each goat supplies, on average, only 250 grams of cashmere per year. In fact, the scarcity of this exquisite material and the difficulty of its collection both contribute to increasing its value.
Cashmere yarn production
After the fibers have been selected, the wool is dyed, spun and twisted into yarn. Its characteristics, such as yarn count and coloring (either plain or mélange), are decided depending on its final use.
Watch the video below to see how cashmere is turned into yarn.
Pure cashmere may be spun into yarn or woven into fabric and is used to produce a number of luxury garments: sweaters, hats, gloves, scarves, coats, blankets, pajamas and socks.
While cashmere knitwear may range anywhere from ultralight to chunky, the “classic” cashmere sweater is generally knit at a medium thickness (12 gauge, in technical terms), making it ideal in any season: in winter, combined with shirts and tees for extra warmth, or worn directly on the skin for a cozier feel; in summer, on cool evenings, as the perfect alternative to a jacket.
Cashmere is appreciated mainly for its softness and warmth, but few are aware that it also has thermoregulatory properties. In fact, cashmere goats live in regions which are subject to considerable jumps in temperature between night and day; for this reason, their undercoat is able to maintain a constant balance between body and surrounding temperatures. Thanks to this unique characteristic, garments made using cashmere are able to protect from both warm and cold weather, while offering extreme breathability.
The benefits are endless and simply cannot be matched by any other natural fiber.
Why is cashmere so soft?
It is important to remember that the fibers used to produce cashmere come from goats which live in areas subject to harsh winters and considerable changes in temperature between day and night. This means that their fleece must be able to keep them warm in temperatures as low as -40°C.
In order to face such an extreme climate, cashmere goats produce a double fleece: the upper coat, called guard hair, is straight and coarse and serves to protect the animal from water and sunlight; the undercoat is softer and is able to maintain a constant body temperature regardless of environmental conditions.
The singular softness of the cashmere goat's down is guaranteed by the fineness of its hair. In fact, each fiber is remarkably thin, measuring between only 11 and 18 microns (1 micron = 0.001 millimeters). Such a thin fiber is able to offer warmth while remaining surprisingly light.
Thanks to these characteristics, once the goat's fleece has been collected and the guard hair has been removed, the resulting wool is be light, delicate and exceptionally soft.
Why is cashmere so expensive?
Cashmere is often referred to as “the Golden Fleece” and is the quintessence of luxury: a reputation certainly upheld by its sublime characteristics.
But why is it so expensive?
The hefty price tag is due to the scarcity of this fiber, the difficulty of its collection and the lengthy process from raw material to finished product.
Cashmere wool comes from breeds of goat which are found predominately in Mongolia, Tibet, China, Pakistan and Iran and make up a population of barely 110 million worldwide. The number may seem large, but indeed it isn't: in fact, each goat is able to supply no more than 300 grams of wool—250 grams on average—per year. This is because the fibers used to produce cashmere may be collected only in the spring, when these animals naturally shed their sought-after undercoat.
Once the undercoat has been collected, it must be de-haired and cleaned before in order to remove the straighter, coarser hairs of the goats's upper coat. De-hairing is a labor-intensive, often manual process the harvested fleece must undergo before it is ready to be sold as cashmere.
The resulting wool will then be dyed, spun into yarn or woven into fabric, and finally turned into a fine cashmere garment.
If we consider that, after such a lengthy process, it will take the wool from more than 2 goats to produce a single 2-ply sweater, it is clear why the price on these precious items is so high.
If you need info about how to care your for cashmere, please visit our website:
How To Wash Cashmere
Who we are
We are brothers.
We founded our first company in 2005 and have been producing fine cashmere knitwear from the very beginning. We have since launched our online shop Maison Cashmere, a new way to buy quality cashmere products.