Most of us know that cashmere is considered the best kind of wool there is, but few of us know why it is so much better. It is different from sheep’s wool, considerably more expensive, and takes more care: so is it worth it?
What Is Cashmere?
Cashmere isn’t actually made from sheep’s wool at all; it’s made from the fine undercoat hairs of a certain type of goat. These goats originate from the Kashmir region, but are found in some other areas now, notably Mongolia.
Cashmere varies in quality too, depending in how well the coarser outer layers are removed from the softer under layer, and on factors to do with the length and thickness of the fibers, and how they are processed.
Why So Costly?
Just one piece of cashmere clothing can require the wool produced by up to four goats over a full year. In addition to that, cultivating, gathering and processing the raw materials for cashmere is expensive and time consuming. The better the processing, the more time it takes, and therefore the more money it costs.
The goats produce their thick coats during the winter, and the fibers are harvested in the spring. The fine hairs from the throat and underbelly are the highest quality, and the best garments use these fibers. Luckily, the goats are not harmed in any way. The coarse hair is separated from the fine, and the fine hair is cleaned, dyed and spun to produce cashmere yarn. The yarn is then knit into cashmere garments.
Cashmere vs. Regular Wool – The Benefits
Wool and similar fibers have tiny scales on them; cashmere is no exception. These scales can catch on bare skin, causing irritation and even rashes. Cashmere, however, has extremely fine scales and is far less likely to cause any kind of discomfort. On the contrary, for most people it is one of the most comfortable fabrics to wear against the skin.
Cashmere is much warmer than wool. A heavy wool jumper, though it may look much warmer and be much thicker than a cashmere jumper, may not be nearly as warm. Cashmere has excellent thermal properties, and even a thin jumper can provide a great deal of insulation, especially if worn under a windproof jacket, or in calm (but cold) conditions. A high-end cashmere jumper can be up to eight times warmer than one made of regular sheep’s wool. Even a soft and light cashmere wrap can feel a lot warmer than wool alternatives.
Cashmere fibers are uniquely structured to provide excellent thermal performance. They are very fine, allowing them to isolate many more air pockets than usual, which prevents heat loss. This makes sense, as the goats live in the Himalayan mountains, or on the frigid steppes of Mongolia, and need excellent coats to keep them warm and comfortable.
Because cashmere is actually a hair-based fabric, it doesn’t shrink when washed, like sheep’s wool does. As long as it is good quality cashmere and is treated properly, your garment will retain its shape and beauty for a very long time.
How To Choose Quality Cashmere
Before you purchase a cashmere garment, make sure that you are getting what you pay for; don’t settle for an imitation or for a low-quality version.
- Read the label. Look for ‘pure cashmere’ or ‘cashmere-merino bend’ and don’t buy one that is blended with acrylic, as acrylic will remove many of cashmere’s benefits.
- Crinkle the fabric between your fingers and check for pills or wrinkles after you let go. High-quality cashmere will not easily pill or wrinkle. It should look smooth again once you let go.
- Touch the fabric to your cheek. If it feels smooth against even this very-sensitive area of skin, then the quality is probably good.
- Finally, place your hand inside the garment to test if you can see through it. You shouldn’t be able to. Two-ply (or more) cashmere knits should be opaque, despite being thin. If you can see through it, it is probably single-ply, and won’t be very durable.