Cashmere, named after Kashmir, an area of North West India from where it originated is a highly sought after wool fiber. It has been produced for thousands of years but since the 18th and 19th century demand for the material has increased exponentially.
Cashmere wool is obtained from the hair of specific goats, most commonly the Cashmere goat. Their coat is made up of two distinct layers – the outer layer and the undercoat. The outer hair of the animal is coarse and waterproof, which serves to protect the undercoat. Only the soft, ultrafine undercoat which provides the goat with warmth in its extreme environment is used in the production of cashmere.
Cashmere is highly desirable as a fabric because of its versatility. It is soft, lightweight, and yet also very durable and a great insulator. This high demand, and the fact that it can take one goat four years to produce enough cashmere for a sweater results in cashmere being one of the more expensive clothing materials available.
A number of steps have to be undertaken before cashmere fibre is usable in clothing which also increases the price:
- Dehairing – Removing the coarse, outer layer hair of the goat
- Dyeing – Pure cashmere (one the first, dehairing process has taken place) is dyed to the required color. The whiter the cashmere the less dye is required to obtain the desired color. This is important as the dying process can harden the fibre, reducing softness.
- Spinning – This process lays all the hairs in the same directing and then spins them into fine yarn which can be used for clothing manufacturing.
The price of cashmere varies greatly, and depends on a number of factors. The first deciding factor is the specific part of the goat from which the undercoat fibre is taken. The throat and underbelly provide the softest fibre and thus are generally more sought after and demands a higher price. Different countries also tend to produce different qualities of cashmere due to varying environmental, and living conditions of the animals.
Nowadays the biggest producer of cashmere is China with Mongolia as the second biggest. Other countries known for producing cashmere are Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Australia, New Zealand, and the Kashmir Region of India.