As cashmere enthusiasts we often take for granted the fact that not everyone knows what cashmere is. They know about its reputation and how soft it is, but when it comes to the finer details, there’s often a big question mark over its origin.
What is Cashmere Fibre?
When we ask people about where they think cashmere comes from we often get responses like; “It’s from a rabbit isn’t it?” or “Doesn’t it come from a sheep?”. Cashmere is a natural fibre (hair) that’s grown by goats in extremely cold climates as extra insulation to keep them warm. It’s very different from wool and is often comparatively much finer, measuring between 11 to 19 microns (the units used to measure fibres) and is much softer.
When it comes to the value of cashmere in its fibrous form, finest, fibre length and colour are all important factors with the lighter, longer and finer fibres the most expensive. Finer and longer fibres create softer and higher quality cashmere clothing while lighter colours of cashmere, cashmere grows in a variety of colours from black, browns and whites, is prefered during the dyeing process, as lighter fibres don’t require bleaching.
Where does cashmere come from?
While cashmere in widely associated with Scotland and Italy (where production often takes place with respect to making fabrics), the three largest producers of cashmere fibre are actually China, Mongolia and Afghanistan. China is by far the largest producer of cashmere fibres with cashmere herds majoritively found in the northern province of Inner Mongolia, where they produce around 60% of the world’s cashmere. Second place is neighbouring Mongolia and third is Afghanistan. These three countries all have one thing in common – extremely cold winters (-40C), which create the perfect climate for cashmere goats and the growth of their insulating cashmere fibres, which keep them warm up until springtime. Come spring, warmer weather naturally causes the goats to shed their coats in preparation for the summer months, which is when the cashmere is combed from the goats, gathered up and shipped off for processing.
The soft cashmere we wear is a far cry from the cashmere that a goat grows and it takes a lot of skill and craftsmanship to get it to where it needs to be. When cashmere fibres are combed from the goat, some of the guard hairs are combed out too, making a mix that needs separating. This process is known as “dehairing”. Dehairing is done by hand and by machine several times to turn it into the fluffy, cloud-like fibre it needs to be, before it’s spun into yarn. To give you a very brief understanding of what the mechanical dehairing process does, see below. These photos were taken of cashmere fibre before and after it was run through a huge chain of machines that use static to separate the coarse guard hair from the softer hairs. While this comparison is quite crude, it exemplifies the fibre’s transition throughout the production process. Amazing right?
We want to raise awareness of the intricacies of cashmere production and the amount of work that goes into every piece, so we figured we’d start at right at the beginning with cashmere in its rawest form. To learn more about cashmere and the importance of understanding its true value, we invite you to keep an eye on our Journal to learn more. You can also read up on why sustainability is so important in the cashmere industry on our sustainability page.