Almost every one is familiar with cashmere—the word alone evokes images of luxury and prestige. What most people are not familiar with are its venerable history and the complex manner in which it is harvested. References to cashmere in early texts date back thousands of years, and there is little doubt that it has been produced in the northwestern region of South Asia for at least as many years. Indeed, the term “cashmere” is the archaic spelling of “Kashmir,” the traditional name of that very region. While South Asia is the traditional home of cashmere, today most of the world’s cashmere is produced in China and Mongolia, although some is still produced in Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Australia, New Zealand, and the Kashmir Region.
While cashmere is often incorrectly considered a type of wool, it is actually a hair that comes from goats—specifically cashmere goats. In order to survive the most extreme climates, cashmere goats are equipped with a coarse, waterproof outer layer of hair. It is beneath this harsh exterior that the soft, lightweight, and highly durable cashmere fibers are found. Every spring, cashmere goats yield 200 to 250 grams of the fiber—if that does not sound like very much, it is because it isn’t. In fact, it would take one cashmere goat 4 years in order to produce enough cashmere to make just one sweater! It is this rarity that breeds cashmere’s prestige, and, ultimately, its often-astronomical price. Of course, before cashmere fibers can be made into the sweaters, scarves, and shirts that we all love so much, they have to be dyed—as the fibers that are collected are either brown, grey, or white—and any sort of impurities must be removed. This long and often arduous process further adds to cashmere’s steep price. All of this results in products that feel soft and lightweight, yet sturdy and substantial.