What is Cashmere and Why is it Considered a Luxury Item?

In the big world of fashion, there are certain materials and fabrics that make pieces of clothing luxurious, and one of those fabrics is cashmere wool. The cashmere wool, also known simply as cashmere, is a material that comes from cashmere goats and other types of goats that produce a soft and downy undercoat. Because cashmere goats are only found in a few regions of the world, cashmere wool is considered one of the most luxurious items because of its price and rarity. If you want to learn more about this material, here is information about cashmere and its luxuriousness. 

Where Does Cashmere Come From?

As stated in the introduction, cashmere comes from cashmere goats, a type of the domestic goat subspecies Capra aegagrus hircus, although they were once considered a separate subspecies called Capra hircus laniger. These cashmere goats have secondary follicles that produce soft, downy, and fine undercoats that are suitable for making yarns and fabric for clothing. Above the undercoat is the guard coat that is produced by the goats’ primary follicles.

In addition to the cashmere goats, cashmere wool can also be obtained from pashmina goats, a different breed of cashmere goats that are native to Ladakh, a high plateau found in the larger Kashmir region of India. The undercoats that pashmina goats produce are much more expensive compared to the ones obtained from cashmere goats, as the said goats are much rarer, and they also have thicker undercoats that are more valuable within the fashion industry.

How Is Cashmere Collected?

cashmere goat

Cashmere wool is collected from the goats during the spring molting season. Molting is a natural process where animals shed their skin or hair to grow a new one that is cleaner, stronger, and fits their current body better. For cashmere goats that are living in the Northern Hemisphere, they would often experience molting from March to May.

The undercoat of cashmere goats is usually removed by hand with the use of a coarse comb, which rakes the coat from the goats’ skin. However, the collected fiber or coat from cashmere goats would also have the guard coat that often has a tough and rough texture, so the fiber needs to be processed in order to remove the guard coat and make the finished product softer. But, there can be instances where some of the guard coat is not removed to make the fiber tougher and more suitable for making thicker pieces of clothing worn during the winter.

While most cashmere wool is collected on adult goats, there is a different type of cashmere wool called “baby cashmere” that is obtained from the undercoat of younger goats and is said to be softer and plusher than the coat produced by adult goats.

Which Countries Produce Cashmere?

Cashmere wool is primarily produced in China, although Mongolia, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, and Kyrgyzstan also sell and export them. China is the largest producer of cashmere, as they are able to produce more than 19,000 metric tons of the said material per year. On the other hand, Mongolia is the second-largest producer with 8,900 metric tons per year, while the other countries produce about less than half of what Mongolia sells in the market.

Types of Cashmere Fiber

There are different types of cashmere fiber that can be sold in the market. Here are the types that you need to know about:

  • Processed Cashmere – a type of fiber that has already undergone the process of washing and carding, which means that it is ready to be spun or knitted to make clothing.
  • Raw Cashmere – the type of cashmere that is freshly collected from the goats. Because it is texturally thicker than processed cashmere, raw cashmere is mainly used to make winter clothes like sweaters, gloves, and hats.
  • Virgin Cashmere – a type of fiber that is made purely from cashmere without any added materials or fabrics.
  • Recycled Cashmere – a cashmere fiber that is created from unused cashmere wool that was previously felted or woven.

How Did Cashmere Become a Luxury Item?

clothes made from cashmere

Cashmere wool became luxurious when the Kashmir shawl, a type of shawl worn by royalty, became popular in the 16th to 18th centuries. Because of its rarity, the Kashmir shawl can only be afforded and worn by those that are wealthy, which includes businessmen, politicians, and members of the royal family in different countries around the world.

However, cashmere wool has already been utilized to make pieces of clothing since the 3rd century BC, as there are historical records stating that woolen shawls made from cashmere were present during that period. But, cashmere only became popular among the elite when Zain-ul-Abidin, the ruler of Kashmir during the 15th century, founded the local wool industry within his territory and hired expert weavers from Turkestan to teach his people how to weave cashmere wool.

Cashmere wool then became a valuable item throughout Europe when a fabric company called Valerie Audresset SA, Louviers, France, began importing and selling cashmere wool and clothes made from the said material during the early 18th century. To import cashmere, it would be collected from Tibet and shipped to Kazan, the capital of the Russian province called Volga, and from Kazan, it would be imported to France. In just a few years, cashmere became a luxury item throughout Europe, especially for the elite, who are primarily using it to make shawls.

Today, cashmere is still regarded as a valuable material in different industries around the world, although they are more sought-after in fashion or clothing. However, due to the overproduction and overgrazing of cashmere goats in China and other countries in Asia, the cashmere business has received criticism since it has detrimental effects on the environment.

Because goats destroy the grass or plants that they consume, having too many of them in an area can result in the destruction of grasslands, which are slowly becoming deserts in Asia because of the lack of plants or greeneries. As a result, many government agencies that are focused on agriculture and trade are implementing rules and restrictions in producing too much cashmere.