We love our cashmere knitwear! Our cashmere jumpers are perfect to keep us warm in the winter and our cashmere cardigans are surprisingly cool in the summer but have you ever wondered what cashmere is made from and where does it comes from? We are often asked at Cashmere and Cotton, what animal does cashmere come from? Is cashmere made from rabbits or alpaca? Well in fact it comes from goats, special Mongolian goats….
Do all goats have cashmere?
Firstly, cashmere goats are a type, not a breed. There is no such thing as a "purebred" Cashmere goat, Most types of goat breeds, except Angora, can produce this down in varied quantities and may be called Cashmere goats..basically any goat producing cashmere can join the club!
Some breeds are better known than others, and most consider Mongolian goats the best. Countries as far afield as Australia purchase breeding stock from Mongolia. Most of the Cashmere goats are easy to raise. They require minimal care and are usually healthy animals. ...But attempts by Australia and others to breed Mongolian goats have failed to produce cashmere of the same value. As they have discovered, environment plays an important role in the production of the soft cashmere hairs.
The goats have an outer coarse 'guard' hair and then beneath is the soft cashmere undercoat, The cashmere hairs are hollow and very fine so they trap air which keeps them really cosy in the cold climate. The colder it is the longer the undercoat will grow.
The best pure cashmere comes from beautiful little goats that live in Inner Mongolia, not outer, Inner. They are high up in the Himalayas where it gets really, I mean really, cold in the winter, below -40 degrees so they grow the longest fine hair. The fitter the goat, the finer the hair, they are in heaven roaming the Gobi desert, they might look fat and content in the Australian bush but they are happiest in the cold Himalayas. Due to environment playing such an important role it goes a long way to explaining why cashmere is so expensive.
Once the harsh winter is over, and spring has arrived the goats start to naturally shed so they are herded down the mountains by the cashmere goat farmer.
There is a misconception that combing rather than shearing the goats to obtain the hair is a lot kinder to the animal, this is not true. The goats can suffer when being combed by hand as it constantly pulls at their coat and can be quite painful, whereas shearing is quick and painless when done by experienced shearers.
Once they have been sheared the cashmere fibres must be separated by combing out the soft undercoat and separate the guard hair. The longest, finest down is used in knitted cashmere garments and the shorter down in woven cashmere items. The separated guard hairs go into rugs.
They only harvest once a year and a full grown adult buck will yield as much as 2.5 pounds of fleece. Average cashmere percentages are in the 20 percent range of the total fleece. The fleece can be sold to wholesale buyers, or it can be de haired and sold to hand spinners.
Always be aware of where your cashmere is from, some of the cheaper cashmere on the market can be a mixture of cashmere and camel hair or sheep's wool. If your cashmere bobbles a lot, it is more likely to be the shorter hairs from goats not been reared in the cold climate of Inner Mongolia.
They are now then ready for the warm hot summer, and we have the lovely soft cashmere wool to knit into cashmere sweaters for you!
Read more on where we source our cashmere over on our blog.
- Check the weight - a cashmere jumper made of two plies, meaning it was knitted from double strands of yarn, or more, will be longer lasting. Basically the heavier the sweater, the more expensive (and warmer) it will be.
- Beware of Pilling - The best cashmere is made from the longest fibres and it is sheared not combed. Test your garment before you buy by rubbing the surface of the garment on the palm of your hand, if the fibres begin to roll up and shed this is an indication that there is a lot of short fibres.
- Tight knit - the tighter the knit the longer it will last. If the knit feels loose, the garment will lose its shape sooner. If you hold the garment up to the light and you can see through it, it probably won't last a season!
- Read the label - A garment labeled 70% cashmere /30% wool frequently contains no more than 5 percent cashmere. Only pure cashmere sweaters can be labeled “100% Cashmere.” If that’s not indicated on the garment, move along.