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What is Cashmere, and Why Are Cashmere Products Synonymous with Luxury?

What is Cashmere, and Why Are Cashmere Products Synonymous with Luxury?

Though we began as a luxury handbag company, SENREVE seeks to create versatile products that complement the modern-day woman. We are as adaptable as our customers. 

As the trend is to do more work from home, this means designing luxurious pieces that are perfect for the working woman in her at-home office, but versatile enough to bring on the road.

Our cashmere shawl is great for cuddling in front of the TV, but can also be used as a comforting cover on cold airplane rides.

Our cashmere coatigan is the perfect professional layer, whether dialing into a video meeting from home or taking meetings in the office. 

When looking to design our new at-home collection, we sought to apply the same rigor with sourcing as we did with our handbags. Italy is known for its quality leather. And Mongolia is coveted as a source of quality cashmere.

Read on to learn more about the history of cashmere, how it’s made, and why it’s synonymous with luxury.

What Makes Cashmere Wool Special?

Strong yet delicate, cashmere is a special type of soft, lightweight wool with a silky feel that makes us immediately think of luxury. Combed from the dense fleeces of Asiatic kashmir goats native to the Gobi desert (northern India and southern China), cashmere items are made from Earth's finest natural fibers, and the many unique qualities of cashmere fibre only add to its rarity and value. The ultra fineness and length of Cashmere fibers set it apart from sheep's wool. For wool to be labeled as pure cashmere in the United States, it must be less than 19 microns in diameter. In comparison, a human hair is between 50 and 70 microns. Cashmere is also hypoallergenic, fire resistant, and three times more insulating than sheep's wool. Cashmere yarn can achieve the same levels of heat retention with much thinner fabric. This means that our SENREVE cashmere products are light-weight, but keep you warm when you need it.

Where Does Cashmere Come From?

The name cashmere is a modern English term derived from the original word, kashmir, a northern province of India. The Kashmir province used to be the exclusive location of kashmir goats, capable of producing such silky fleeces which made cashmere wool especially rare and valuable.

Cashmere goats were once considered to be Capra Hircus Laniger, as if they were a subspecies of the domesticated goat, Capra Hircus, but in modern times they are placed into the other domesticated subspecies, Capra Aegagrus Hircus. 

Today, cashmere goats reside in many countries including China, Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, Australia, and even the United States. Any location with large enough temperature changes between warm and cold weather to accommodate the well insulated goats' fluffy winter coats. More fine hair comes with colder weather, which is why the finest cashmere generally comes from colder environments. 

China is the largest producer of cashmere and supplies an estimated 19.2 metric tons per year, with Mongolia taking second place at 8.9 metric tons, with the rest of the world supplying an average of 15 to 20 metric tons per year. Cashmere wool has been manufactured for thousands of years in Kashmir, Mongolia, and Nepal. The product is locally called, pashm (Persian for wool), or pashmina, for its use in the handmade shawls of  the Kashmir province from pashmina goats. 

Cashmere's natural colors are white, grey, and brown, but can be dyed any color. If you’re looking for a more natural cashmere look, indulge yourself with our Oatmeal Capelette and Straight Leg Pants. And if you’re looking for an added pop of color with a touch of luxury, make sure to check out our two-toned blankets.

How is Cashmere Made?

Cashmere goats sprout a thick coat of coarse hair and fine dense fleece (the "undercoat" or "underdown") during bitter Asiatic winters. The raw material is cleaned, spun into cashmere yarn, and then dyed or woven directly into fabrics.

For soft, high-quality cashmere, traditional farmers learned the spring molt's natural timing and brushed their goats with stiff brushes to remove the soft undercoat while leaving behind most of the coarser guard hairs.

In some modern settings, cashmere goats are shorn (shaved) in the spring to save time, which leaves the fleece full of coarse guard hairs, making it more difficult to clean, resulting in lower quality and reduced value.

Removing the coarser guard hairs is a labor-intensive endeavor, though there's some modern machinery with well-kept secret methods of separating the guard hairs from fleece during the manufacturing process, a technique known as de-hairing.

All of SENREVE’s cashmere products are made by Mongolian artisans who practice ethical and sustainable sourcing. We only work with companies who use a traditional, humane method of combing cashmere without hurting the animals. We partner with companies that are working towards sustainable cashmere sourcing and are working to obtain the “eco” label for Mongolian cashmere by partnering with the AVSF - an organization working since 1977 to support smallholder farmers, offering them professional skills in agriculture, livestock farming, and animal health.

Cashmere is used to produce home goods like blankets and throws, cashmere garments such as woven and knitted sweaters, jumpers, trousers and coats, as well as accessories like hats, scarves, gloves, pajamas, and even purses. Cashmere may be blended with other fibers to reduce cost or to gain the other fabric's properties, such as wool's elasticity or the sheen of silk. Stiff guard hairs are utilized in the manufacturing of brush bristles and non-apparel applications.

Kinds of Cashmere

  • Raw cashmere is unprocessed fibers that are straight from the animal.
  • Processed cashmere has been dehaired, washed and carded, leaving it ready for spinning, knitting, crocheting, or weaving.
  • Virgin cashmere are processed fibers made into yarn, fabrics, or garments for the first time.
  • Recycled cashmere is reclaimed from scraps and fabrics that may or may not have been used by a consumer.
  • Grade C is the roughest cashmere and the least pleasing against our skin. It is often blended with other fibers to increase its utility and is the cheapest cashmere to purchase within the cashmere industry.
  • Grade B is better than C but is still a little rough against bare skin. The middle graded cashmere is also blended with other fibers and its price varies widely.
  • As the highest quality cashmere, grade A will always be the most expensive, and one touch of the silky fabric will tell you why.

Why is Cashmere Pricey?

The annual yield of usable cashmere fibers per goat is less than half a kilogram (one pound) per year. Typically, up to six cashmere goat fleeces are required to produce one cashmere sweater, and up to 40 fleeces are needed to make an overcoat. Once we include the limited range of nomadic cashmere goats and the labor intensive cleaning employed to remove oils, vegetable matter, and guard hairs, the manufacturing costs of cashmere quickly rises.

  • "High-quality" cashmere contains less than five percent of the coarse guard hairs, while "Fine-quality" contains fewer than one percent guard hairs.
  • Some cashmere fleece is harvested from young goats and is referred to as "Baby Cashmere." Baby Cashmere is considered even more soft, luxurious, and higher quality than the finest normal cashmere.

Cashmere in History

References to cashmere shawls appear as early as the third century BCE, but here are some of cashmere's historical claims to fame.

Some local traditions consider the founder of Kashmir crafts to be the 14th century's Mir Sayyid Ali Hamadani, who visited the Kashmir region, combed a cashmere goat, and knitted a pair of socks from the extraordinary fleece. He then brought 700 craftsman from Persia to process the wool, and gifted the pair of socks he made to the king of Kashmir, Sultan Qutubdin. The Sultan was so amazed by the socks' durability and fineness, that he followed Hamadani's advice and began weaving shawls, which ended up being cashmere's first commercial sales. A century later, the ruler of Kashmir consolidated the local wool industry by importing expert weavers from Turkistan.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Kashmir (then called Cashmere by the British), had a thriving industry in the production of cashmere fleece shawls. The shawls were introduced to Europe when a French General on campaign in Egypt sent a shawl back to France.

In 1799, French weavers tried producing imitation India shawls, or cachemires, with the wool from Spanish merino sheep.

Shortly after, a company in France was the first European company to trade in commercial quantities of raw cashmere between Europe and Asia. The French shawls were made differently than the traditional weave with different patterns on the sides. The French government, in coordination with private citizens, imported several Tibetan and Tartary goats in 1819 to establish their own nation's goat herds. 

A few years later, a company in England purchased two male and two female cashmere goats from French farms to establish an English herd. The cashmeres were crossed with Angora goats to improve the fleece's spinning and weaving qualities.

Soon after, thirteen of the English goats were purchased for trans-shipment to New South Wales, Australia.

By 1830, Scottish textile manufacturers became well known for weaving cashmere shawls with imported French yarn, and by 1893, John Hanly was founded, and is one of the original Irish cashmere companies still selling cashmere products today.

Traditionally, cashmere fleece was cleaned by picking out the guard hairs by hand, but in 1890, Dawson International became the first company to invent a commercial dehairing machine. Almost two decades later, Dawson International imported cashmere from China, with a special trade arrangement in place until 1978, when cashmere fleece was imported from many different Chinese provinces instead of just two.

The dawn of the American industrial revolution developed many early textile manufacturing centers. One of them in particular, the Blackstone Valley and Uxbridge Massachusetts, became an early center of production and was famous for their high quality cashmere wool and satinets around the year 1810, with cashmere being officially mass-imported into the states by 1947.

Caring for Cashmere

  • Always follow the manufacturer's direction for care, though a professional dry cleaning is the easiest method, while machine washing and drying should be avoided.
  • Wash cashmere delicately, by hand, with clean cold water.
  • Some detergents are designed with cashmere in mind. Otherwise, use a very gentle soap.
  • Press the soapy water into the fibers with even pressure until clean.
  • Dip and soak the cashmere in clean, cold water until all the soap residues are rinsed away.
  • Squeeze the fabric to remove excess water, do not wring or twist the cashmere fibers.
  • Lay the cashmere on a flat surface to dry. Hanging wet cashmere can stretch and distort the fibers.

Learn more about our recommended care for our SENREVE cashmere here, and if you’re curious to explore more cashmere, visit our At-Home collection.

Sources

  1. https://sewport.com/fabrics-directory/cashmere-fabric
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cashmere_wool
  3. https://www.masterclass.com/articles/fabric-guide-what-is-cashmere#what-is-cashmere

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