Cashmere is a luxury fiber prized for its warmth, softness and beauty. Most of today’s best sweaters, scarves and hates are made from this lush fabric. To be considered a genuine cashmere fabric, the fiber must come from the hairs of the cashmere goat. These goats live in the Asian region of Kashmir, hence its name.
When the British conquered Kashmir in the 19th century, they began exporting the fiber to Europe. This set the stage for intense demand for cashmere which continues even today. Because of its beauty and softness, cashmere is infamous for being very expensive. Not only is cashmere a luxurious fabric, but creating even just one involves an intense labor process.
After cashmere producers comb the hair, the hair is cleaned to remove other impurities. This is an essential step as the impurities can reach up to about two thirds of the original weight of the hair. The pure cashmere is silky soft and is ready for dying prior to being spun. The cashmere hair is woven into a two-ply yarn. This is a superior form of yarn so it is also much more expensive because it means two strands instead of one. When only a single strand is used, the twist in the yarn can pull at a sweater, which can eventually change the shape of the fabric. The two ply yarn tends to eliminate the bias in the knit or weave.
Most of the world’s cashmere today is produced in China and Mongolia. The cashmere goats live in the regions of the Gobi Desert and are bred specifically for their soft, pale hair which can be dyed to any color. Because the harsh conditions of the Gobi Desert only allow for a minimum number of goats that can be raised, this makes the fiber more exclusive and therefore more expensive.
Other regions of Asia and the Middle East, like Turkey, India, Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan also raise cashmere goats although the ones they produce aren’t as soft as the ones from China and Mongolia. They are still somewhat similar in prices, though because of the intensive process of harvesting the cashmere hair.
What separates good cashmere from a not-so-good one? Aside from the feel (good cashmere should feel soft, smooth and luxurious); another important factor is the weight or the density. You can test this by pulling the sides of the sweater apart and letting them go. Good cashmere is the one which snaps back to its original shape. A loosely knit fabric or the one that limps is the trademark of a cheap sweater. A good cashmere should feel substantial even if it is lightweight.
Because a cashmere sweater is a classic and a good fashion investment, it deserves only the best care in the world. Treat your precious cashmere like you would your own hair. Wash it gently in warm water using a mild soap or shampoo. Block it out on a towel and let it dry. Should there be stubborn stains on your cashmere, you can also take it to the dry cleaners. Also, remember the painstaking effort that goes into producing one cashmere. It would take a single goat another four years to produce enough wool for just one sweater!
Most cashmere can last for many, many years. Like with most other things, that all depends on the quality and how well you take care of it.