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What is Camel Wool Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

by Boris Hodakel  • December 13, 2019 • 10 min read

Fabric nameCamel wool
Fabric also known asCamel hair, camel cashmere
Fabric compositionHairs from the Bactrian came
Fabric breathabilitynMedium
Moisture-wicking abilitiesMedium
Heat retention abilitiesHigh
Stretchability (give)Low
Prone to pilling/bubblingLow
Country where fabric was first producedAncient cultures on the Mongol Steppes
Biggest exporting/producing country todayMongolia
Recommended washing temperaturesHand wash cold
Commonly used inCoats, sweaters, suits, underwear, tents, carpets

rainy day gray camel hair woolRainy Day Gray Camel Hair Wool

What Is Camel Wool?

Camel wool is a type of fabric derived from the coats of camels. This type of fabric is more commonly known as camel hair, and it is usually derived from a camel subspecies known as the Bactrian camel.

These types of camels are common in the Mongol Steppes region, and they can be found across a wide area stretching from Turkey to China and Siberia. Unlike most camels, which are short-haired, Bactrian camels are known for their long, lustrous hair and large twin humps.

The camel hair derived from the Bactrian camel consists of two separate portions: The guard hair and the undercoat. The guard hair is hard and coarse, and it doesn't make very good fabric unless it is mixed with another substance like sheep wool. This part of a Bactrian camel's coat protects it from the brutal winters on the Steppes, and in the middle of winter, it gives Bactrian camels a thick and fuzzy appearance.

camel wool blend coating fabricCamel Wool Blend Coating Fabric

The undercoat is quite soft, and it is used by Bactrian camels much in the same way that fiberglass insulation is used between the inner and outer walls of houses. While the guard coat may be used to make certain types of textiles, the undercoat is the portion of the Bactrian camel's hair that is most commonly used to make apparel.

The use of camel hair as a textile fabric is a practice that's most commonly associated with the waning days of the British Empire, but the use of this type of hair to make garments has experienced a recent renaissance among the sustainably-minded or "conscious" consumer population. While most types of wool can only be derived by shearing hairs off animals, Bactrian camels naturally shed their winter coats every spring, which means that harvesting this type of hair is usually a sustainable and cruelty-free enterprise.

Camel wool is generally separated into three grades: High-grade fibers are usually derived from the undercoat, and only the best undercoat fibers can be considered to be truly high-grade. It is high-grade camel wool fibers that are most commonly used to make consumer textiles.

Undercoat fibers that aren't considered to be high-grade are usually referred to as medium-grade, and while these fibers may also be used to make apparel, the garments that are made with medium-grade fibers are rougher to the touch. Lastly, low-grade camel hair fibers are usually derived from the guard coat, and these rough and inflexible fibers are only suited for carpets and similarly rigid textiles.

When viewed under a microscope, camel hair fibers look very similar to sheep wool fibers, but their scales are less pronounced. Like other types of wool fibers, camel hairs have hollow, air-filled matrices that make them excellent insulators.

How Is Camel Wool Made?

how is camel wool fabric made

Every year, the Bactrian camel starts to grow a thick coat of hair toward the end of the summer. By the end of October, this coat is close to its full thickness, but it will become even more robust by midwinter.

The Bactrian camel is protected from the winter chill by this coat. It receives this attribute from one of its genetic parents, a camel species known as Camelus bactranus, which is native to Siberia and other cold parts of Asia. Many centuries ago, Camelus bactranus was bred with Camelus dromedarius, which is known for its long and lustrous hair. The resulting Bactrian camel has attributes of both of its parents, and it is capable of growing its beautiful and soft hair in even the coldest Asian climates.

Once the frost begins to thaw in the spring, the Bactrian camel prepares to shed its coat. Breeders of this type of camel have generational experience in predicting exactly when chunks of hair will start to fall off the camels in their caravans.

camel coatCamel Coat

In the past, a person known as a "trailer" would follow behind camels in a caravan and pick up hair fibers as they fell. These days, most Bactrian camel breeders are no longer nomadic, and they may sometimes resort to shearing if all of a camel's hair isn't ready to be harvested at the same time.

In most cases, however, Bactrian breeders simply wait for all of the hair on one of their animals to fall off. If they do shear their camels, they always leave the area over the hump covered with hair since the hair in this area improves disease resistance.

Once all of the hair has fallen off or been shorn off a Bactrian, it is cleaned to remove impurities, and then it is carded. Carding is the process of separating hair fibers into strands, and in many cases, the same tools are still used to card camel wool that have been used for millennia.

After it has been carded, the wool is ready to be spun into yarn. In some cases, an industrial spinning machine may be used to render this wool into yarn, or the indigenous peoples of the Mongol Steppes may use traditional tools to get this job done.

The spun yarn is then washed one more time to prepare it to be worked into textiles. Some Bactrian camel breeders make their own finished textiles, but it is much more common for the finished yarn to be shipped off to a major textile factory in the area or overseas.

How Is Camel Wool Used?

how is camel wool fabric used

Camel wool has been used for so long that it is even mentioned in the Bible as a material used to make tents, cloaks, and carpets. This fiber has been used in the West since at least the 17th century, and camel wool suddenly burst into popularity in the late 19th century in England.

One of the most popular sports in the British Empire at the time was polo, and camel hair jackets became irresistibly fashionable among polo players almost overnight. Over time, garments made from this fabric were adopted by more and more upper-class British men, and vintage polo jackets made from camel wool are still popular among some collectors.

These days, this fabric is primarily used to make garments like sweaters, coats, and underwear. Camel wool is a major export of Mongolia, and companies in this Asian country produce a wide variety of scarves and lightweight sweaters that they then sell to consumers in China, Europe, and the USA.

camel wool coatCamel Wool Coat

While it can't be said that camel wool is incredibly popular, it does have unique attributes that cause it to retain an enduring slice of the global wool market. This type of wool is highly insulative, but it can also be woven into very thin garments.

In addition, high-grade camel wool is nearly as soft as cashmere, and it is, in fact, often blended with cashmere to make luxury garments. Rougher camel wool is frequently used to make carpets.

Where Is Camel Wool Produced?

camel wool fabric in the world

Most of the world's camel wool is produced in Mongolia. This country's economy is driven by its textile exports to a large degree, and Mongolia also sells garments made from yak hair fiber to customers around the world.

Most of Mongolia's camel wool is produced by breeders who have been caring for Bactrian camels for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. Many of these breeders are still nomadic, and they harvest camel wool using the same methods that have been passed down from their distant ancestors. Other breeders have settled down in permanent locations, and they use more modernized techniques to care for their animals and harvest their hair.

camel wool blazerCamel wool blazer

To a lesser degree, raw or semi-processed camel wool is also produced in Tibet, Afghanistan, Iran, Russia, and China. All of these countries are in the same general region as Mongolia, and they are home to some of the same nomadic tribes who produce this material on the Mongol Steppes.

While the British Empire attempted to facilitate camel wool production in practically all of its colonies, the only places were the breeding of Bactrian camels really stuck were Australia and New Zealand. This fiber is also produced in very small quantities in a number of other Western nations such as the USA and South Africa.

How Much Does Camel Wool Cost?

Fabric made from the hairs derived from Bactrian camels is one of the most expensive types of wool. It is seen as a luxury textile, and it is on par with other luxury wools like mohair and cashmere in terms of price.

One of the contributing factors to the price of camel wool is the fact that it is hardly ever produced in factory settings. While camel wool experienced a brief surge in popularity in the half-century between 1880 and 1930, interest in this fabric has been in decline ever since, which has dissuaded international textile manufacturers from making this fabric in large quantities.

What Different Types of Camel Wool Are There?

different types of camel wool fabric

Camel wool is almost exclusively derived from the Bactrian camel. The two types of wool derived from this animal are:

  • Guard coat: The guard coat consists of thick, inflexible fibers that are not suitable for apparel.
  • Undercoat: Fibers in the undercoat are thin, fluffy, and easy to make into yarn.

How Does Camel Wool Impact the Environment?

Camel wool is widely considered to be one of the most environmentally sustainable types of animal fibers. While many types of wool animals are mistreated during the fiber harvesting process, the chances of animal cruelty occurring during camel wool harvesting are significantly limited.

The Bactrian camel is one of the only sources of wool in the world that naturally sheds its hair every year. It is, therefore, unnecessary to restrain these animals during the fiber harvesting process, and there is a lesser chance of causing animals injuries or trauma during harvesting. While some shearing may still take place, it is hardly ever necessary or economically expedient to shear the entire camel, and since they are such large creatures, restraining a Bactrian camel for an all-encompassing shearing would be a very difficult process anyway.

tailored coat camel woolTailored Coat - Camel Wool

While there are some dedicated farms that raise these types of animals for their wool, most Bactrian camel wool is harvested by individual breeders and their families in parts of remote Asia. When you consider the fact that the vast majority of this substance is produced in Mongolia, it becomes clear that it would be very hard to cause a significantly negative environmental impact through the manufacture of camel wool; Mongolia has a GDP of about $12 billion, which means that this country doesn't have enough industrial might to cause significant environmental damage no matter what manufacturing processes it pursues.

No caustic or toxic chemicals are used during the harvesting or processing of camel wool, and this substance is rarely dyed. When it is dyed, most producers prefer to use natural dyes, and even if harmful dyes are used, this type of fabric is produced in such small quantities that the potential for environmental contamination is very slim.

Camel wool is an entirely biodegradable substance, which means that it does not contribute to pollution when it is discarded. If they were left to their own devices, the estimated 1.4 million Bactrian camels in existence would simply shed their hair on the ground of the Steppes, which means that harvesting this discarded hair does not rob anything from nature, and it provides consumers with an alternative to other types of wools.

Camel Wool Certifications Available

camel wool certifications

Hair derived from camels for textile purposes can be certified by a number of different textile certification organizations. One of the most prestigious certifications available comes from the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), which is internationally recognized as an authority on sustainable and organic manufacturing standards for fabrics.

It's also possible to have this type of fabric certified by OEKO-TEX, and this independent testing organization provides informative results on all sorts of different raw, semi-finished, or finished textile products. Lastly, the product brand Woolmark also offers a service called the Woolmark Licensing Program, which determines the quality of a number of fabric types including camel hair.

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About the author:

Boris Hodakel is the founder and CEO of Sewport - an online marketplace connecting brands and manufacturers, former founder of various clothing manufacturing services. He is passionate about e-commerce, marketing and production digitisation. Connect with Boris on LinkedIn.