What is cashmere fabric?
Cashmere is a type of wool that is made from the hair of a certain type of goat native to the Gobi Desert and Central Asia. Long considered to be one of the softest and most luxurious types of wool in existence, cashmere is highly prized as a material for sweaters, scarves, and other light cold-weather gear.
While cashmere is not as insulative as other types of wool, it is much softer and finer, which makes it possible to weave cashmere into the highly dense but thin fabric. This type of wool will not insulate you as well as traditional sheep wool, but it is soft enough to wear directly next to the skin, which is advantageous for applications like underwear and undershirts.
Cashmere fabric today
These days, cashmere wool is mainly produced in China, but there is still a thriving cottage cashmere economy within the Central Asian nations. Cashmere production continues to increase with the world population and the reduction of poverty, and it’s likely that China will remain the main exporter of cashmere for the foreseeable future. While there are many unethical textile manufacturers in China, there are also lots of ethical Chinese cashmere producers.
While animal fibers like wool have gone out of fashion to a degree due to animal rights concerns, there is no suitable synthetic alternative to cashmere. For decades, textile manufacturers expected that people would gradually start wearing only synthetic fabrics, but instead, the opposite has happened. The world economy is gradually moving toward fair trade and sustainable textile manufacturing processes.
Combined with the latest standards in organic, cruelty-free manufacturing processes, cashmere is a fabric that will continue to have a lasting impact on the evolution of 21st-century textile commerce. It’s a simple fact that nothing compares to the sleek lustrousness of finely-woven cashmere wool, and people will continue to pay for cashmere products as long as they are on the market.
How is cashmere fabric made?
Cashmere fabric production is broken down into several different processes. Commercial cashmere production is very different than traditional, cottage-industry-style production. For thousands of years, nomadic herding peoples have shorn the hair from their goats, combed it, and spun it into fine yarn. Large-scale cashmere production facilities follow roughly the same processes, but at a much larger scale.
First, the goats are allowed to grow full coats of hair. The shearing process can be accomplished in a variety of ways, and it’s certainly possible to shear cashmere goats without harming them.
Next, the raw wool is picked through, and any dirt or impurities are removed.
The individual wool fibers are combed into straight lines, and they are carded into light groups of fibers.
The carded fibers are fed into a spinning machine, which twists the wool fibers to form yarn. Depending on the textile products being produced, thinner or thicker yarn may be desired.
- Cleaning, dyeing, etc.
The yarn is cleaned again, and if the dye is desired, it may be applied at this point. In some cases, manufacturers prefer to garment-dye their cashmere items.
The finished cashmere yarn is woven into a textile product. Examples of popular cashmere products include scarves, vests, and sweaters.
- Final treatments
Before the garments leave the facility, they may be treated with flame-retardants or other final treatments. Keep in mind that wool is naturally flame-resistant.
- Packaging and fulfillment
The final products are packaged, branded, and made ready for sale.
How is cashmere fabric used?
Cashmere fabric is used in a variety of different product applications. For years, cashmere was coveted as one of the best fabrics for intricate dresses and other formal wear adorned by European nobility, and this association with a high culture still defines cashmere to this day. While cashmere wool is significantly more expensive than other types of wool, it is much softer and finer, which makes the wearer feel an immediate sense of comfort and luxury.
Since cashmere is lightweight and relatively delicate, it isn’t commonly used for outdoor wear or heavy garments. While light cashmere sweaters are common, this material isn’t commonly used for trench coats, pea coats, or other types of outerwear garments that are ordinarily made with other types of wool.
Cashmere sweaters are often worn for special occasions, and it’s even possible to find certain types of cashmere underwear. Generally, cashmere is easy to work with, which lends this fabric to use in intricate, expensive, and beautiful garments that are designed to impress and dazzle.
Wool from cashmere goats is not used in any industrial applications, which means that the entire global cashmere economy is dependent on the production of cashmere garments. By choosing to work with an ethical, natural cashmere producer, you can help encourage the growth of remote economies and the progression of a new fair-trade fabric paradigm.
Where is cashmere fabric produced?
The majority of the world’s cashmere is produced in China. This large Central and East Asian nation borders the Kashmir region from where this wool originated, and most of the Gobi Desert lies within China’s borders, which is the epicenter of contemporary cashmere production.
What different types of cashmere fabric are there?
- Cashmere wool
Derived from the cashmere goat of the Gobi Desert and Kashmir regions, cashmere wool is very fine and soft but also strong.
- Pashmina wool
A close relative of the cashmere goat, the pashmina goat produces fibers so similar to cashmere that these two types of fabric are often lumped together.
- Grade C cashmere
Grade C is the roughest grade of cashmere wool. It is also the cheapest, and it is commonly used in garments that don’t make a lot of contact with the skin.
- Grade B cashmere
This cashmere grade is somewhat better than C, but it still might be slightly rough or scratchy. Mid-grade cashmere varies widely in price.
- Grade A cashmere
Grade A cashmere wool is universally expensive, and some types are much more expensive than others. After the first time you touch grade A cashmere, though, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.
How much does cashmere fabric cost?
Cashmere varies widely in price. Wool from cashmere goats that are bred in a megalithic Chinese factory might be low-grade and cheap, but most traditional cashmere producers charge much higher prices. In the cashmere industry as in most parts of life, you get what you pay for, and traditionally-produced cashmere wool is much softer and better overall than mass-produced cashmere.
The grade of cashmere fiber also greatly affects its price. Low-grade cashmere is inexpensive, but high-grade cashmere wool can become incredibly pricey. The higher the grade, the thinner the fibers when it comes to cashmere wool.
How does cashmere fabric impact the environment?
Cashmere wool has a generally neutral impact on the environment. While some aspects of cashmere’s environmental impact are positive, others are negative:
Increasing reliance on natural fibers helps the environment. Most synthetic fibers are not biodegradable, which means they remain in the ecosystem for hundreds of years. These fibers are also often toxic, which poses another ecological hazard. Whether the fibers themselves are toxic or not, producing synthetic textiles always results in the production of hazardous waste.
The more we use fibers like cashmere wool instead of nylon, polyester, or other alternatives, the more we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and protect the environment. Unlike cotton and other plant textile crops, wool doesn’t require pesticides or fertilizers, which makes wool production highly environmentally friendly.
As with most animal products, there are concerns about the treatment of cashmere goats. PETA, for instance, is of the opinion that cashmere wool production is on par with genocide, but other voices take a more moderate approach. While it’s true that there are plenty of bad actors within the cashmere wool industry, there are just as many ethical producers. It all depends on who you work with.
Otherwise, cashmere wool does not have a negative impact on the environment. Instead, it provides a vital economic lifeline in a region devoid of any other major world exports.