Cashmere is one of the softest fibers in the world. It is no surprise that cashmere is expensive, the reason being it is the most luxurious and rarest material produced. If you have ever worn any clothing made of cashmere, you may already know how silky and durable it is. But what exactly is cashmere and how is it made? And why Mongolian cashmere is famous for its long-lasting and fine quality? I have decided to answer those questions for you in this article.
What is Cashmere and Where Does It Come From?
Around the late 18th century to the early 19th century, cashmere production is said to have started in the Kashmir region. During that time, cashmere shawls were exported to Europe, which is still one of the biggest cashmere importer regions today. The popularity of Cashmere increased in the 19th century. Now Cashmere still comes from Asia, Mongolia and China being the leading producers.
Cashmere is a luxurious textile that comes from cashmere goats. Many people misunderstand that cashmere comes from both sheep and goats. The soft fiber of the cashmere can be produced from not just any goat but from a nomadic breed. Those types of goats are found across the Himalayas where the weather is exceptionally cold such as Mongolia, Southwest China, Afghanistan, Tibet, Iran, and Northern India. Due to the cold habitat, cashmere goats grow thick, soft, and warm coats which is the secret of the finest quality cashmere.
Cashmere goats have two layers of hair: thick and wiry guard hairs and soft undercoat hairs. Both hairs can be used for different purposes. The soft undercoat is reserved for textiles to make clothing while the guard hairs can be used for non-apparel purposes. The fiber having the lowest hair content commands the highest price, therefore, the amount of guard / coarse hair in the cashmere affects the price greatly. As mentioned by the Brittanica, “high-quality cashmere-coating fabrics usually contain less than 5 percent of the coarse hair; fine-quality sweaters contain less than 1 percent.”
Why is Cashmere So Expensive?
The severely limited supply and the laborious production process explain the expensive price of cashmere. The fibers can only be collected once a year during the spring molting season. This is when the goats shed the thick fleece that has grown throughout the winter to protect themselves from the cold. One cashmere goat can give merely 150-200 grams of cashmere wool each year. And this amount gets smaller because the gathered cashmere has to be cleaned and washed. In fact, it takes two or three goats’ worth of wool to make a single scarf.
All these processes are labor-intensive and time-consuming. So it might take months or even years to produce a single cashmere sweater. Cashmere goats have to be shorn by hand, then gently transported to a facility for inspection. Each shorn strand is manually separated for inspection, although some places have developed their own fast method. Overall, every step of the process is handled delicately and meticulously to produce the finest quality cashmere. So it is no surprise that cashmere is expensive compared to other textiles.
Why is Mongolian Cashmere Unique?
Due to its luxurious and rare features, Cashmere has earned itself nicknames such as “Soft Gold” and “Diamond Fiber”. And it is no mistake that Mongolia is called the “Land of Soft Gold”. If you’ve been interested in Mongolian culture, then you may already know the unique nomadic lifestyle of Mongolians. We have vast land of steppes and mountains where the livestock enjoys the luxury of roaming and grazing free. Plus, Mongolian goats grow undercoats of fur consisting of long, fine fibers to withstand the freezing weather.
When the spring comes, Mongolian herders hand-comb the soft undercoat from the goats without damaging the skin. Even though it’s time-consuming and difficult, this approach is the best for both the goats and the fibers. This is also the reason why Mongolian cashmere products are environmentally friendly, sustainable, and cruelty-free.
“The quality of Cashmere is determined by three factors: length, diameter, and degree of crimp” as defined by the Cashmere Goat Association. The average hair must be at least 3 cm long with an average diameter of fewer than 19 microns (a human hair is around 180 microns). Mongolian goats produce a fiber third longer than others. No wonder foreigners coming to Mongolia are amazed by the cashmere quality, saying “it’s softer than baby’s bottom”.
Mongolian cashmere has the widest range of colors when it comes to cashmere. The four natural colors of cashmere (white, beige, warm, grey) all can be found in Mongolia. 2% of Mongolian goats produce warm grey cashmere (which is only found in Mongolia) while more than half percent produce beige cashmere. You will rarely see dyed cashmere clothing as we mostly create products with the natural colors of cashmere.
You will find many authentic Mongolian Cashmere brands (most of them have online stores) that produce a variety of clothing. Some examples include Gobi Cashmere, Naadam, Evseg Cashmere, Goyo Cashmere, and more.