long sleeved polos Not all cashmere is created equal
Cashmere. Just the word conjures images of sophistication. Like caviar and pearls, the fiber has humble beginnings. Who would think that the hair on the underbelly of the Mongolian goat would be in such high demand? But it has been for centuries, and because there is relatively little of it and because processing costs are high, it has traditionally been an indulgence.
So why is it that nowadays even Costco is selling it? Walk into any mall and you’ll come across cashmere sweaters in such a variety of prices your head might spin: $1,000 or $59.99?
Karl Spilhaus, president of the Boston based Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute, believes the difference in price is often an indication of quality. “It’s a question of significant lower quality,” he says.
It takes one Mongolian goat about four years to naturally shed enough hair to make one cashmere sweater. Thus without expensive manual “harvesting,” 100 percent cashmere might be hard to come by. Then the hair has to be washed and sorted by hand: Only the longest and finest under fleece the hair close to the goat’s skin on the belly and neck is spun and woven to make good quality cashmere. Once the raw material has been harvested, it must be spun into yarn and made into a garment. Spilhaus says that if he spends $300 to $400 on a cashmere sweater, he looks for a brand manufactured in Europe or Japan, although many cashmere sweaters and pashminas now carry the “Made in China” label. Although China supplies almost 60 percent of all cashmere on the market, that’s only the raw material. Manufacturing is a different matter, and although China turns out some items of reasonable quality, the European manufacturers are better, he says.
“The Chinese manufacturing of cashmere has developed in the last 30 years, whereas the European manufacturers have a history of several hundred years. In China, they often lack the design capabilities of the high end luxury mills,” Spilhaus says.
In particular, Scotland and Italy are traditional centers of excellence when it comes to spinning and knitting cashmere.
Of course, not everyone wants to pay the price for good quality 100 percent cashmere made in Europe, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting cashmere on the cheap. But it’s important to be an informed buyer.
First there is the question of fiber quality, which is measured in length and thickness. Fiber length ranges from 0.8 inch for cheap cashmere to up to 2.5 inches for the most luxurious. The diameter of the fiber must be less than 19 microns to be considered cashmere. In comparison,
human hair has a diameter of 75 microns. Finer cashmere (often around 14 microns) is what’s going into luxury garments. Thicker, shorter (scratchy) hair will be made into less expensive garments and is often used as part of a blend.
These blends combine cashmere with wool, silk or synthetic fibers. It’s these cheaper fibers that are often reflected in a lower price.
Buying a blend comes with trade offs, and you’re probably going to be compromising on the very things that make cashmere so sought after: softness, weight and its insulating properties. The inner coat that grows in the cold winter months helps goats withstand the severe temperature fluctuations between night and day and the harsh weather conditions of Inner Mongolia, where the best cashmere comes from. The less expensive garments won’t have these unique properties, will pill more readily and will lack the soft, sumptuous feel that makes cashmere so highly coveted.
Cashmere is eight times warmer than sheep’s wool, yet significantly lighter, which means that to reap its full reward, a buyer should invest in 100 percent cashmere of good quality.
If you don’t want to splurge on a $1,000 sweater, then a stylish midprice cashmere sweater could be a fine alternative.
Banana Republic is a good source for wardrobe staples, and its simple V neck, two ply cashmere sweaters in a spectrum of colors feel OK, look trendy and are well priced at $139.
For those with the money and desire for only the best, there are companies whose offerings are luxurious and exclusive. Loro Piana, the 200 year old Italian company whose name is synonymous with the finest cashmere, has a mill outside of Milan and a herd of white capra hircus goats in Inner Mongolia. The brand recently introduced a collection of ultra luxurious, baby cashmere, which is obtained from the harmless process of combing the under fleece of the youngest kids. The result is the softest, finest possible cashmere that feels as though you’re wearing clouds. It’s also very expensive. A baby cashmere classic V neck style sweater runs around $995.
Regardless of how much your cashmere costs, take every opportunity to wear it. Just as a Persian rug improves with age,
cashmere’s soft feel improves with wear.