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What is Cashmere Fabric: Properties, How its Made and Where

by Boris Hodakel  • November 12, 2019 • 7 min read

Fabric name Cashmere
Fabric also known as Kashmir fabric
Fabric composition Fiber derived from cashmere or pashmina goats
Fabric breathability High
Moisture-wicking abilities High
Heat retention abilities Medium
Stretchability (give) Medium
Prone to pilling/bubbling High
Country where fabric was first produced Kashmir region & Gobi Desert region
Biggest exporting/producing country today China
Recommended washing temperatures Cold/cool
Commonly used in Sweaters, hats, dresses, shirts, socks, underwear, thermal gear, hosiery, scarves, blazers, gloves

What is cashmere fabric?

Cashmere is a type of wool that is made from the hair of a certain type of goat native to the Gobi Desert and Central Asia. Long considered to be one of the softest and most luxurious types of wool in existence, cashmere is highly prized as a material for sweaters, scarves, and other light cold-weather gear.

While cashmere is not as insulative as other types of wool, it is much softer and finer, which makes it possible to weave cashmere into highly dense but thin fabric. This type of wool will not insulate you as well as traditional sheep wool, but it is soft enough to wear directly next to the skin, which is advantageous for applications like underwear and undershirts.

There are some concerns about the treatment of cashmere goats. It is, however, certainly possible to produce cashmere wool sustainably and ethically, and here at Sewport, we’ve partnered with a variety of ethical cashmere brands. We’ll cover everything you need to know about cashmere in this guide.

History of cashmere fabric

The breeding of cashmere goats in Mongolia and in the Kashmir region predates recorded history. References to this fabric go back as far as the 3rd century BC, and there’s indication that cashmere wool production goes back much farther than that.

Trading with Turkestan brought cashmere wool into the Middle East, and from there, ancestral trading routes brought this incredibly soft fabric to the courts of Europe and beyond. Cashmere wool became especially popular in France, and merchants braved perilous trading routes to bring this legendary material back to the thriving European market.

By the 19th century, cashmere wool production was a major industry throughout Europe, and the trade of this wool product provided economic benefits throughout multiple geographical regions. To this day, traditional goat herders in Central Asia benefit from the cashmere trade, and interest in this ultra-soft textile fiber remains high throughout the world.

Cashmere fabric today

These days, cashmere wool is mainly produced in China, but there is still a thriving cottage cashmere economy within the Central Asian nations. Cashmere production continues to increase with world population and the reduction of poverty, and it’s likely that China will remain the main exporter of cashmere for the foreseeable future. While there are many unethical textile manufacturers in China, there are also lots of ethical Chinese cashmere producers.

While animal fibers like wool have gone out of fashion to a degree due to animal rights concerns, there is no suitable synthetic alternative to cashmere. For decades, textile manufacturers expected that people would gradually start wearing only synthetic fabrics, but instead, the opposite has happened. The world economy is gradually moving toward fair trade and sustainable textile manufacturing processes.

Combined with the latest standards in organic, cruelty-free manufacturing processes, cashmere is a fabric that will continue to have a lasting impact on the evolution of 21st-century textile commerce. It’s a simple fact that nothing compares to the sleek lustrousness of finely-woven cashmere wool, and people will continue to pay for cashmere products as long as they are on the market.

How is cashmere fabric made?

Cashmere fabric production is broken down into several different processes. Commercial cashmere production is very different than traditional, cottage-industry-style production. For thousands of years, nomadic herding peoples have shorn the hair from their goats, combed it, and spun it into fine yarn. Large-scale cashmere production facilities follow roughly the same processes, but at a much larger scale.

1. Shearing

First, the goats are allowed to grow full coats of hair. The shearing process can be accomplished in a variety of ways, and it’s certainly possible to shear cashmere goats without harming them.

2. Cleaning

Next, the raw wool is picked through, and any dirt or impurities are removed.

3. Combing

The individual wool fibers are combed into straight lines, and they are carded into light groups of fibers.

4. Spinning

The carded fibers are fed into a spinning machine, which twists the wool fibers to form yarn. Depending on the textile products being produced, thinner or thicker yarn may be desired.

5. Cleaning, dyeing, etc.

The yarn is cleaned again, and if dye is desired, it may be applied at this point. In some cases, manufacturers prefer to garment-dye their cashmere items.

6. Weaving

The finished cashmere yarn is woven into a textile product. Examples of popular cashmere products include scarves, vests, and sweaters.

7. Final treatments

Before the garments leave the facility, they may be treated with flame-retardants or other final treatments. Keep in mind that wool is naturally flame-resistant.

8. Packaging and fulfillment

The final products are packaged, branded, and made ready for sale.

How is cashmere fabric used?

Cashmere fabric is used in a variety of different product applications. For years, cashmere was coveted as one of the best fabrics for intricate dresses and other formal wear adorned by European nobility, and this association with high culture still defines cashmere to this day. While cashmere wool is significantly more expensive than other types of wool, it is much softer and finer, which makes the wearer feel an immediate sense of comfort and luxury.

Since cashmere is lightweight and relatively delicate, it isn’t commonly used for outdoor wear or heavy garments. While light cashmere sweaters are common, this material isn’t commonly used for trenchcoats, pea coats, or other types of outerwear garments that are ordinarily made with other types of wool.

Cashmere sweaters are often worn for special occasions, and it’s even possible to find certain types of cashmere underwear. Generally, cashmere is easy to work with, which lends this fabric to use in intricate, expensive, and beautiful garments that are designed to impress and dazzle.

Wool from cashmere goats is not used in any industrial applications, which means that the entire global cashmere economy is dependent on the production of cashmere garments. By choosing to work with an ethical, natural cashmere producer, you can help encourage the growth of remote economies and the progression of a new fair-trade fabric paradigm.

Where is cashmere fabric produced?

The majority of the world’s cashmere is produced in China. This large Central and East Asian nation borders the Kashmir region from where this wool originated, and most of the Gobi Desert lies within China’s borders, which is the epicenter of contemporary cashmere production.

How much does cashmere fabric cost?

Cashmere varies widely in price<. Wool from cashmere goats that are bred in a megalithic Chinese factory might be low-grade and cheap, but most traditional cashmere producers charge much higher prices. In the cashmere industry as in most parts of life, you get what you pay for, and traditionally-produced cashmere wool is much softer and better overall than mass-produced cashmere.

The grade of cashmere fiber also greatly affects its price. Low-grade cashmere is inexpensive, but high-grade cashmere wool can become incredibly pricey. The higher the grade, the thinner the fibers when it comes to cashmere wool.

What different types of cashmere fabric are there?

1. Cashmere wool

Derived from the cashmere goat of the Gobi Desert and Kashmir regions, cashmere wool is very fine and soft but also strong.

2. Pashmina wool

A close relative of the cashmere goat, the pashmina goat produces fibers so similar to cashmere that these two types of fabric are often lumped together.

3. Grade C cashmere

Grade C is the roughest grade of cashmere wool. It is also the cheapest, and it is commonly used in garments that don’t make a lot of contact with the skin.

4. Grade B cashmere

This cashmere grade is somewhat better than C, but it still might be slightly rough or scratchy. Mid-grade cashmere varies widely in price.

5. Grade A cashmere

Grade A cashmere wool is universally expensive, and some types are much more expensive than others. After the first time you touch grade A cashmere, though, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about.

How does cashmere fabric impact the environment?

Cashmere wool has a generally neutral impact on the environment. While some aspects of cashmere’s environmental impact are positive, others are negative:

Positive impacts

Increasing reliance on natural fibers helps the environment. Most synthetic fibers are not biodegradable, which means they remain in the ecosystem for hundreds of years. These fibers are also often toxic, which poses another ecological hazard. Whether the fibers themselves are toxic or not, producing synthetic textiles always results in the production of hazardous waste.

The more we use fibers like cashmere wool instead of nylon, polyester, or other alternatives, the more we reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and protect the environment. Unlike cotton and other plant textile crops, wool doesn’t require pesticides or fertilizers, which makes wool production highly environmentally-friendly.

Negative impacts

As with most animal products, there are concerns about the treatment of cashmere goats. PETA, for instance, is of the opinion that cashmere wool production is on par with genocide, but other voices take a more moderate approach. While it’s true that there are plenty of bad actors within the cashmere wool industry, there are just as many ethical producers. It all depends on who you work with.

Otherwise, cashmere wool does not have a negative impact on the environment. Instead, it provides a vital economic lifeline in a region devoid of any other major world exports.

Cashmere fabric certifications available

There are quite a few organizations that provide certification for cashmere wool:

Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS)

GOTS certifies all sorts of different natural fabrics. It keeps a close eye on cashmere wool production, and it only provides certifications to producers that follow organic, sustainable guidelines. GOTS rewards producers that behave ethically with a global framework of buyers, sellers, and advocates for safe, sustainable fabric production.

Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA) Sustainable Cashmere Standard

The SCS is one of the newest certifiers of cashmere wool. This branch of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance seeks to develop a new standard for cashmere production that affords proper respect to grassland health, animal management, and other aspects of sustainable wool production. Look for the “SFA” logo on compliant cashmere wool products.

Kering Standard on Cashmere

The Kering Standard isn’t as strict as some other cashmere certifiers, but you do at least have to know the bare minimum about where you sourced your wool to qualify for this logo on your product. Kering oversees the production of various animal fibers and products, and this organization has a thorough process in place for implementing safe, sustainable wool production infrastructure.

Recycled Claim Standard (RCS)

The RCS aims to increase the use of recycled materials in textile products, and this opt-in program allows cashmere producers to let the world know that their products are recycled.

Global Recycled Standard (GRS)

Wool products are surprisingly easy to recycle. The GRS oversees the recycling of dozens of both organic and artificial textile products, and this organization provides cashmere producers with another opportunity to get their products recognized as eco-friendly.

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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.