Cashmere is considered to be one of the most luxurious fibres in the world. It is said to be three times warmer than wool. As we move into colder weather we are coming into the most popular time of year for wearing cashmere.
ASOS chose to ban the fabric by the end of January 2019 (along with all mohair, silk and feathers). So, is cashmere ethical and sustainable?
How is cashmere made?
Cashmere comes from Kashmir goats that are kept in China and Mongolia. The goats produce soft, fleecy fibres under their coats (on the underbelly) to keep them warm from the bitterly cold winters, as they have very little fat. These fibres are what makes cashmere.
Each year from March to May as the temperature increases the goats shed their coats. Farmers separate the fine hair from the coarse hair so that the fine undercoat can be dyed and woven into yarn.
Is it ethical and sustainable?
Cashmere used to have a high end price tag as it takes four goats to produce one jumper. With the rise of fast fashion it is now easier to get your hands on cashmere products at much more ‘reasonable’ prices. However, with a lower price tag someone is paying the price somewhere along the line, whether that’s the animals, environment or workers.
The goats need their coats to protect them from the freezing temperature, but they’re often shorn in midwinter to meet market demand which result in many dying from exposure.
The environment is also being affected. With the increase in demand for cashmere along with the pressure to lower the price of it, herders need a larger number of goats. This in turn means more animals to feed and this overpopulation results in the green grasslands becoming bare deserts.
We should also consider the working conditions of the herders. Not only do they have to handle expanding herds but the fashion industry has a reputation for lacking transparency. Given that the price of cashmere items is lowering we can assume that herders are at rick of being underpaid.
What can we do?
Back in 2018 I actually wrote about cashmere and how it isn’t just a fabric for winter, you can also wear it in spring. This was when I just thought that it was a luxury fabric and didn’t even consider how it was made. I think that educating ourselves is so important. It is something I have been making more effort to do when it comes to what I buy.
I believe that we should all be finding out more about a brand before we buy from. Do they provide easy to find information on where their cashmere comes from and how it is handled?
As it is a natural fabric this means that it is biodegradable, making it better than many synthetic fabrics. Some brands like Stella McCartney actually use re-engineered cashmere, which offers the same soft, insulating qualities as cashmere but without the environmental impact associated with rearing the goats.
If I want to purchase cashmere in the future I will be buying items that have been recycled or reused. Buying pre-owned is always the best option as it doesn’t produce any more waste.