Cashmere is one of those words we often hear when we approach cold weather, or perhaps when a friend has mentioned they’ve found a “cashmere" sweater for a good price. Usually when we think of cashmere, there is an instant correlation to price. We often relate cashmere as expensive, or better said, as something luxurious. Do we know why though?
What is cashmere made of? A deep dive into this premium fiber
The secret of cashmere's quality
To better understand why cashmere is so high quality, let’s put it in comparison with one of the most common fibers that we are most acquainted to: sheep wool.
Production process: from the animal to the fiber
It may come to you as a surprise, but Cashmere does not come from a sheep (as it is in the case with wool), it comes from a very specific species of goat that can be mostly found across the Himalayas and in parts of the Middle East. More distinctively, the process of deriving the raw cashmere from the goat is very different from that of the wool from a sheep. When producing wool, a sheep’s coat is sheared multiple times a year; while in the case of cashmere, the goat’s coat can only be brushed once a year to collect the soft hairs that malt in the spring.
As one can imagine, the different collection processes will ultimately impact the amount of raw material that one sheep/goat is able to produce per year. On average, a sheep is able to produce at least 3kg of wool per year, while a cashmere goat is only able to provide 200gr. Consequently, multiple goats may be required to finalize an item of clothing.
Despite being lighter and softer, Cashmere can be up to three times more insulating than wool. In fact, such properties allow it to be considered as one of the most delicate and versatile fibers in the world. As a result, it requires very skilled workers throughout its value chain to ensure that such valuable fiber is managed correctly and that every filament is not wasted throughout the process.
Grading system: yarn, ply, and the different types of cashmere
Given to its distinctive and valuable properties, on the contrary to wool, a grading system has started to be introduced to distinguish the cashmere used in every item. This system is based on fineness (measured in micron), length, country of origin and the processing of the hair. Usually, a thinner, softer and less processed hair is considered to be higher in quality, while a thicker, stronger and/or treated/blended hair is considered to be lower in quality.
Another way to recognize the quality of a cashmere product is by looking at ply. Ply means the number of threads of yarn knitted together, so a 4-ply sweater will be of higher quality than a single ply sweater. In other words, the higher ply, means more threads have been twister together, resulting in a tighter knit and a warmer product.