How Cashmere is Made (and why it's so expensive)
If you’re holding quality cashmere, it’s unnecessary to even ask the question: why is it the most expensive than other wools? The tactile feel of 100%, quality cashmere alone is luxe. You can feel its worth. Cashmere feels impossibly soft, softer than any other textile. It’s a fact so simple as to be almost ironic: the finest fiber on earth comes straight from the goat’s belly.
What is cashmere made of?
Cashmere is made from the longest and softest belly fur that the Mongolian cashmere goat grows for the winter. Meaning, each of these rare goats only produces a little bit of cashmere only once per year. It’s a gentle practice, whereby the fur is actually combed out as it’s starting to shed, in the early springtime. So, you could say a cashmere sweater is secondhand, as the goat got to enjoy it for a season first. In comparison to sheep's wool, annual production of wool is over 300 times that of cashmere globally. Therefore, cashmere is an incredibly finite resource, and it is so important to us that we manufacture it ethically and share it with the world responsibly. By making only staple goods that are designed and guaranteed to last for a lifetime, we are offering a responsible alternative to fast fashion and cheaply made cashmere.
Our cashmere supply chain
At osteriavarvamingo, our cashmere comes from Scottish-milled Mongolian cashmere wool, so it’s the best of the best. By best, I mean in terms of not only quality, but ethical practices. Because when you talk about ethical cashmere, you need to look at sustainability, sourcing, and animal welfare as well.
Raw Cashmere from Nomadic Mongolian Herders
While China is the world’s leading producer of raw cashmere, Mongolia is known for the highest quality raw cashmere and a culture of traditional herding practices. Our raw cashmere comes from nomadic herders who are so thoughtfully living this traditional way of life, tending to small flocks of 10-300 goats in these dramatic environments. Cashmere goats are herding animals, so their environmental footprint is left by their grazing. Overgrazing leads to desertification, as the goats strip away the ground cover and other animals like wild yaks, gazelles, and endangered snow leopards suffer the consequences. As we remain ever focused on ethical production of cashmere and the sustainability of what we do here, we are humbled by the fact that cashmere is a finite resource and it needs to stay that way to protect the natural resources of the cashmere goat’s natural habitat in Central Asia. We’ve seen other cashmere producers pushing for more breeding, but we worry constantly about the negative environmental impacts of overproduction.
Ethical Dyeing and Spinning in an Heirloom Scottish Mill
Scotland has been a global leader in textile production, and the country is unrivaled in its reputation for processing and spinning virgin cashmere yarn. There is a rich heritage in this production, and this is the only way we know to make truly quality cashmere: by starting with a production facility that is woven into the fabric of its community. We source from a longstanding and innovative mill that combines tradition and dedication to craft with a focus on the environment. One of the things that we are known for as a label is our colors, and not only are those colors vibrant due to the meticulous hand-dyeing technique that the mill practices, but they are environmentally friendly.
There are certainly cheaper products on the market, and the same way that you could buy a €50 made in China cashmere sweater, we could be cutting costs and making a larger profit by sourcing our virgin cashmere yarn from a Chinese mill. In both cases, we’d be sacrificing quality and transparency and choosing factory-made over artisanal, ethical production.
Discerning quality cashmere
There are technically three grades of cashmere, but you’ll never find Grade A or Grade C listed on a label or on a cashmere seller’s website. You can tell the quality of the cashmere by the length of the fibers.
Some goods that are labeled cashmere but have an incredibly low price point may be using lower quality fibers; the result of which is a garment that doesn’t have nearly the strength and warmth of the real deal. Or it is a blend, cut with a cheaper fiber. By its nature, cashmere does blend well with other fibers, but blends do not compare in strength, warmth, and softness.
Ethical cashmere production in the USA
We’re incredibly proud to be doing something unique: ethically manufacturing cashmere domestically at a responsible scale. With increased focus on clothing maker’s practices, we are hoping to keep the focus on labor practices. Broadly, in US apparel, 80% of goods are produced in sweatshop or modern slavery conditions. I know acutely that the first thing I could do for osteriavarvamingo to cut costs and raise our profit margin would be to cut labor costs. Ethically, it’s something I have no desire to do. And practically, I truly know that it wouldn’t be the same product and it wouldn't be something I could feel good about offering up to the world.
Years ago, someone got ahold of our patterns and our technique and made an attempt to send it over to China for discounted production. A sample made its way back to me, and I was appalled at how it paled in comparison, and it solidified what I already knew: the only way to make a truly quality cashmere garment that will last is to take care and detail at every step.
This video of a big name cashmere brand gives a compelling look into the industry and the process of cashmere production, from grazing to garment. As we grow and continue to write our story, we will continue to educate on ethical practices in the cashmere industry and offer transparency into our own.