What Is Cashmere?
Cashmere is the name given to a soft woolen fabric made from the wool of the Kashmir goat. It has a smooth, soft texture and is lightweight and warm. Cashmere fiber is strong and is easy to spin into both light weight and thick yarn for making clothing. In its original state, cashmere wool comes in various shades of gray, brown and white. Dying the wool to get different colors affects the weight and quality of the piece of clothing.
Where Does Cashmere Come From?
Cashmere wool comes from a specific species of goat called Kashmir goats (Capra Hircus). These goats have a double fleece, one of which is a soft, fine undercoat. This is the wool that is used to make cashmere garments. These goats are found in the Gobi desert which stretches from North China into Mongolia. The Kashmir goat is also bred in Iran, Tibet and India. More recently people in the United States have begun breeding them. China is the world’s largest producer of raw cashmere with an estimated 10,000 metric tons collected per year.
How Is Cashmere Collected?
To collect the soft, fine fibers that make cashmere, the wool is harvested when the goats begin to shed their winter coats. This occurs from March to May every year. At this time the wool or fleece of the goat is collected and de-haired to separate the course outer coat fleece (guard coat) from the softer cashmere fibers (under coat). This is done by combing the fleece of the goat to separate the fibers. This process can take up to two weeks to complete. Due to the labor intensive processes of collecting pure cashmere, cashmere garments are quite expensive. The best quality cashmere comes from the underbelly and throat of the goat, but the wool collected from the back and legs is also used to make cashmere garments. Generally these are not as smooth or lightweight as garments made from the fleece collected from the throat and underbelly and tend to be less expensive.