Cashmere is the wonderfully soft undercoat that is harvested from the cashmere goat only, during the spring when the goats naturally shed. It has amazing qualities that can keep you both warm in the winter and not too hot in the summer, it is much finer than wool so it is lighter and nicer to wear.
So how is the lovely soft hair harvested?
The best quality cashmere is from China and Mongolia, a region where the temperature really fluctuates from really cold in the winter, up to -40 degrees, to over 30 degrees in the summer. The cashmere goats have adapted to this climate by developing a double fleece: A coarse outer guard layer that protects the undercoat from water, and a very soft , fine undercoat that provides warmth and insulation from the biting winter winds.
The goats from this region have the longest and finest hair which makes for the best cashmere knitwear.
In the spring the herders bring all their goats down from the mountains and relieve them of their winter coat so they are ready for the long hot summer.
To get the amount of cashmere that is needed the goat is combed several times by hand and then sorted into the fine undercoat and the coarse outer hairs or guard hairs. Some herders may clip their goats, but this is indiscriminate in collecting the hairs and will produce a yarn that has a lot of short hairs which cause the bobbling and will not be as strong.
Once all the hair is collected it is bundled up and sent to the yarn factories that then spin and dye the yarn. The darker the colour they have to dye it, the more it might bobble.
When the long pure cashmere yarn is knitted into jumpers, it should feel light, warm and silky soft. You will hardly notice you are wearing it, that’s why it is perfect in the summer too. It will be durable, breathable and will keep you warm without being heavy, lasting for years and years….. as long as you treat it right.
Why is Cashmere so expensive?
The valuable, soft wool is harvested only once a year from cashmere goats. Due to the demand and the ideal conditions for rearing goats, good quality cashmere only really comes from Mongolia.
Every good quality label wants to use Mongolian yarn, and they just cannot produce enough. It takes at least 4 goats to produce enough yarn for one jumper. Only 600 tons of cashmere is produced per year, compared to 1.3 million tons for lambswool. Being a finite resource, it is a rare commodity and so makes it very expensive.
Cashmere fibre is only going to get more expensive as demand increases, there is only a really one place that it can successfully produce the healthiest goats with the longest hairs. The United States have tried breeding from the Mongolian goats but the climate is not cold enough to get the finest or the longest coats.
A little word of advice, the cheaper the cashmere the less likelihood that the cashmere has been de haired by hand or sourced from Inner Mongolia. In the case of cashmere, you really do get what you pay for, have a look at our buying tips on our where does cashmere come from guide.
Cashmere vs Wool
- Quality cashmere is the finest, softest and warmest yarn. Once you have worn cashmere there is no going back.
- Cashmere is produced from hand combed hairs rather than a shorn fleece, which gives better insulation capacity. This also makes garments made from cashmere, very light in weight. Warmth without weight is the signature of knitwear made from this amazing fibre.
- Is wool warmer than cashmere? Cashmere is warmer than wool and helps to maintain your natural body temperature, meaning it keeps you warm but not hot. It is also naturally absorbent, letting your body breath, so great to throw on after those sweaty yoga workouts.
- Cashmere does not itch. Due to the fineness and shape of the fibres, the yarn produced does not have any sharp prickly surfaces. This gives a silky smooth surface to garments made from cashmere. It doesn't contain Lanolin so you are highly unlikely to have an allergic reaction, unlike wool.
- Cashmere is much softer than wool, due to the smallest diameter and fineness of the fibres. It is the softest of all natural yarns, including silk.
- Jumpers made from the finest cashmere yarn are very strong and hard wearing. Good quality cashmere garments should last up to 10 years if stored and washed properly. Have a look at our how to care for cashmere clothing blog for the best advice.