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Whether it’s in a plush sweater or a warm toque, cashmere is always in the top tier of fabric choices. But not all cashmere is created equally, so we put together some insights into what makes it so great, why you should invest, and how to spot poor-quality cashmere.
Cashmere costs what it does because of its rarity and the labour-intensive process to collect and manufacture it. The higher quality the cashmere, the more expensive it will be.
Cashmere comes from the undercoat of a specific type of goat, usually from Mongolia where the harsh climate encourages the growth of long, soft hair. It is up to eight times more insulating than sheep wool, due in part to the air chambers in the centre of each fibre that help keep the goats warm.
Cashmere makes up about 0.5% of the world’s total wool production. Collecting the fibres can only be done once per year when the goat sheds naturally.
Each goat will produce about 150g of hair, so a high quality, thick cashmere sweater might take up to six goats to complete. The wool from a single sheep, in comparison, can be used to make up to 5 sweaters.
Traditionally, the goats are combed by hand and the fibres are manually sorted into various grades. Grade A fibres are 14-15 microns in diameter, Grade B are 16-19 microns, and Grade C exceeds 19 microns, though at that point it can’t technically be classified as cashmere anymore.
Lower quality cashmere is sheared, rather than being combed, which results in shorter, coarser fibres added into the mix.
The biggest issue with low-quality cashmere is that it will fall apart on you. Even the highest quality cashmere is delicate, but the shorter the fibres used, the itchier and less durable it will be.
On the flip side, high quality cashmere can last you many years. Aside from the obvious benefits of softness and warmth, it will also retain its shape better than sheep wool when cared for correctly. Learn how to properly care for your knitwear here.
If the cost seems too good to be true, it probably is. There are many ways that clothing manufacturers can cut corners, like using low-quality fibres, blending it with synthetics, and using a loose weave to reduce the volume of cashmere needed to produce it.
Low quality cashmere will likely end up in your garbage much sooner than you’d like it to. Here are a few things to watch for when it comes to quality cashmere.
1. Watch the label
An item that has cashmere in it will say so on the label. 100% cashmere is ideal, though it is often woven into other quality yarns like merino wool and alpaca to create texture or add softness to the garment. Be wary of anything that blends low-quality synthetics, like polyester, with cashmere.
2. Go by feel
Quality cashmere will feel very soft, but still firm. If it’s scratchy, it’s likely been sheared, rather than combed, which results in the thick, wiry hairs of the goat being mixed into the soft undercoat.
If it’s TOO soft, it has likely been treated with chemicals or washed excessively to soften it, which will reduce its lifespan.
3. Look closely at the yarn and weave
Look for two-ply garments, where two threads are twisted together to create the yarn. Two-ply yarn will be more durable than single-ply, and it will be warmer, too.
Sometimes a loose weave is a style choice, but for the most part, a loosely woven sweater uses less cashmere yarn than one that’s more tightly woven. If you can see through the garment, it will likely develop holes quickly.
4. Gently stretch it
High quality cashmere garments will bounce back when stretched gently. The bounce-back is also an indication that it will keep its shape over multiple wears and washes.
5. The pill test
All cashmere will pill over time (don’t worry--you can bring it back to life with proper care), but low quality cashmere will begin to pill almost immediately if you run the palm of your hand over it. This is due to the shorter fibre lengths, which get caught on one another and ball up.
Sweaters and scarves and hats are obvious cashmere choices, but we love the smaller details just as much. A cashmere glove lining, for example, will keep your hands much warmer than a synthetic or wool lining without adding bulk. Cashmere around the cuffs of a jacket will help keep the warm air inside, and it will be particularly soft against your skin. Those little details go a long way.
Looking for lux knits? Take a look through our sweaters and knitwear online here.