Where does cashmere come from and why can it be such a costly investment for your wardrobe? Unlike merino wool and other wool fibres, cashmere can only be found in a few corners of the planet, and undergoes a manufacturing process that is quite labour-intensive. The more we understand about how our clothes are made, the easier it is to understand not only what drives the cost, but the true value of a piece. Hand-knit pieces are far more expensive than machine knit pieces, and rightly so. Far more labour goes into their production, and each piece is unique. The same can be said for many cashmere pieces.
A Brief History of Cashmere
We can’t be certain on the precise date of when cashmere was first discovered as a usable fabric, but one of our earliest archaeological evidence dates back to the 13th century when the Venetian merchant, Marco Polo, was wandering the Silk Route. He came across some cave paintings in the Altai Mountains, deep in Mongolia. The paintings illustrated a scene where goats were being combed and the hair was being collected. Because of the frigid temperatures, a fabric like wool would have been absolutely essential for the survival of any human group who lived there. Aside from the cave paintings, there are a few Biblical references as well as Afghan texts that date back to the 3rd century B.C.E that make specific reference to these fabrics being used in scarves in places like Kashmir. You’ve most likely heard of these woolen scarves, or perhaps even have one or two in your closet.
Pashmina shawls and blankets (Pashmina being the Persian word for ‘Wool’) were considered high luxury items, worn mostly by high-born women, but also by noble men. They were often found in the dowries of wealthy brides in Nepal, Pakistan and India. Pashmina’s were prized heirlooms, handed down generation to generation. And throughout Europe, to own a pashmina was a sign of high fashion and wealth, especially in France where they were adorned with the Floral motifs and worn by the bourgeois.
Today, Pashmina’s are still beloved and thought to be a timeless wardrobe, but they are often made with different fabrics. During the 13th centuries and onwards, these precious shawls, and scarves were made from the chiru goat, a species that is now considered endangered. Now, pashmina’s are either made from luxurious man made fabrics or other types of goat wool
Where Does Cashmere Come From?
Now that we’re able to orient ourselves on the regions in which cashmere is found, what is it specifically.In the most simplest of terms, cashmere is wool taken from the undercoat of a Capra Hircus goat. The undercoat is the fine hair next to the skin. The finest cashmere is pulled from the goat’s back or middle of its side. The Capra Hircus is a species of goat that was domesticated some 10,000 years ago, and originates in the highlands of western Iran. Most cashmere today is collected from herds that live in Ladakh (India), Tibet and Inner Mongolia.
How is it Collected?
In the heart of the Gobi Desert, when late spring rolls around, the goat herders prepare to harvest cashmere. Cashmere goats begin to molt, so harvesters comb out the undercoat on the underbelly and sides of the goat. The hair is then hand-sorted, and shipped off to a dehairing facility where it needs to be cleaned, and refined further to make it suitable for the next process. The refined wool is then balled up and shipped to Europe where artisans spin it into a fine yarn.
Why is it Expensive?
As you can see, cashmere wool is extremely rare. On average, it takes two cashmere goats to produce one full sweater, and because the species is so uncommon, you can imagine this would drive up the price of a luxury fabric like this. There are more inexpensive options on the market, but these are blends which have a lesser percentage of pure cashmere woven into the fabric.
Cashmere is considered a luxury fabric for good reason, and after learning about its origins and the process that it requires to create a single piece, one can see why its value holds over time, and why it’s such a timeless and worthy piece to have in your wardrobe.