Understanding Cashmere Quality
Before you buy your first cashmere pieces, whether it’s a weather, a shawl, blanket or anything of the like, understanding what quality cashmere looks and feels like is essential. You may have noticed that cashmere pricing can be substantially different, and there are several reasons for that. Knowing how it's made, where it comes from and some of the terminology surrounding this uniquely crafted fabric will help you determine which cashmere piece is right for you.
What is Cashmere & Where Does it Come From?
Cashmere has been around for several thousand years, and came to prominence in its more modern form during the late 14th and early 15th century. It has always been considered a luxury fabric, worn by royalty and the upper echelons of civil society across several empires. In its earliest days, it was spun into scarves, pashminas, and blankets.
Most cashmere is found in the Gobi Desert straddling Mongolia and China, as well as in Ladakh India, Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and a few other central European nations. Moulting season for Cashmere goats begins in spring, when they shed their winter coats and can continue on into May. The goat’s fine hair is harvested, then cleaned, processed, dyed and spun for commercial use, and the entire process takes approximately two weeks before harvesting to raw material.
What Determines Cashmere Quality?
First, the best cashmere in the world comes from two regions; Mongolia and Kashmir in India (from Pashmina Goats). The bitterly cold weather is what contributes to a finer, softer coat of hair. Almost all fine cashmere that you see in boutiques will be from Mongolian goats. Cashmere harvested from Kashmir is extremely rare, and is often reserved for those with limitless spend abilities! All of that being said, cashmere quality can vary wildly. Factors like length, colour, and fineness being the most important. Cashmere pieces made with longer, finer fibres are less likely to pill, and maintain their integrity much longer.
The most important factor in the quality of cashmere is the length and fineness of the fibers. Items made with long fine fibers pill less and maintain their shape better than items made with shorter hair. Also, fibres that require little to no processing (like dye) are more desirable because the fibres are much lighter and softer.
Okay, But HOW Do I determine if my Cashmere is Good Quality?
There are number of things you should do before you purchase any cashmere, make note of these:
A Proper Inspection
If you’re doing any of these little tests in the middle of a boutique or department store, you may feel a little self-conscious, but don’t fret. Cashmere is an investment and there’s nothing wrong with making sure you get what you pay for. The first thing you’re going to do, as with any high quality fabric piece you buy, is to give it a good once over with your eyes. Pick it up and look across the garment, noting how ‘fluffy’ the piece is. If it seems extra fluffy, you’re looking at a lower quality cashmere, and the likelihood of pilling early on is high. If you’re noting hairs that sit 1-2mm off of the garment or fabric piece, pilling will be less of an issue.
The Soft Touch Test
Cashmere should of course feel soft, unlike any type of wool or wool blend, cashmere should feel soft against the soft skin on your body. Now here’s where things get complicated; Cashmere should feel soft, but not too soft. Cashmere shouldn’t feel slippery, and there are a number of brands that use harsh chemicals, fabric softeners or additives to make the fabric feel softer to consumers. This will have a negative impact on the fabric and deteriorate it over time. Remember, cashmere will naturally soften over time, it doesn’t need to be made softer by artificial processing.
Does it Return to its Shape?
Cashmere, while it is a fine fabric, it also has elasticity and structure. If you pick up a cashmere sweater, give it a gentle tug in all directions, it should return back to its shape. A lower quality cashmere or a cashmere blend will stretch out, and not go back. Another good trick is giving it a bit of a stretch and holding it up to the light; if you see that it is tightly woven, this generally indicates a higher quality cashmere.
Short of visiting the Gobi Desert and interviewing the harvesters, you will have to rely on your eyes, touch and knowledge of cashmere quality. Also purchasing from a reputable brand with a trusted history will also ensure your cashmere is of the highest quality possible.