Cashmere: Vogue’s definitive guide to the most luxurious textile fiber in the world

Cashmere is universally recognized as the epitome of luxury when it comes to materials for the textile industry.

Who hasn’t dreamed of wrapping up in a cashmere sweater? To appreciate the soft “hand”, the enveloping warmth, the cocoon effect? Here is the Vogue guide with everything you need to know about cashmere. For example, do you know that it is not a sheep that produces the precious fleece? And what does it take cashmere produced by three animals to produce a scarf? And then: how to wash your beloved cashmere sweater so that it lasts a long time?

What is cashmere and what is the difference with wool?

Let’s start from the basics: cashmere (English spelling, or cachemire, in French, almost never cascimirra, as the Italian translation would be) is a precious textile fiber that comes from goats and not from sheep, from which the wool comes. It is a textile fiber produced from animals raised in very cold areas, with significant temperature changes, which therefore have a double coat: a primary fleece called giarra and which is made up of rain-resistant hair and a secondary fleece called duvet and characterized by shorter but very warm and soft hairs. It is this precious part that is used in the textile industry for the precious sweaters that we dream of all winter long. The fact that it is the secondary and lower fleece also characterizes the work of farmers, distinguishing it from that of wool sheep farmers: in fact, cashmere goats are not shorn like sheep but the hair is collected by combing the goats.

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Where does cashmere come from?

It is the original name of the fleece of these goats that reveals their origin: the name, in fact, derives from the ancient spelling Kashmir, region of northern India where its production originated. Now most of the world’s cashmere is “harvested” (i.e. the goats are combed to obtain the softest fleece) on the highlands in Inner Mongolia, Northern China, Iran and Afghanistan: all places where the climates are harsh, with temperatures dropping even 40 degrees below zero and strong temperature ranges, so that to protect themselves the animals develop the precious and soft fleece. The fleece of Goat Hyrcus – this is how the cashmere goat is called in animal husbandry – it has been appreciated by man since ancient times: already in the XIII century it seems that Marco Polo spoke of shepherds capable of taming goats to produce knitwear.

How do you go from fleece to cashmere yarn?

When in spring the goats go through the moulting season and change their hair, the breeders “comb” them by hand, collecting the softer undercoat which is then separated from any jar hair present with a particular process called dehairing, which also serves to eliminate leaves, twigs and other impurities that stick to the hair. The fibers are then sorted by length and color. The huepresent are different and include beige, grey, raw or brown (but there are also natural red threads) based on the animal from which they differ and, obviously, by keeping the material in its natural color the softness is preserved even more because the dyes may have on the softness of the garment. An advice shared by those who produce yarns? The more natural or light colors the sweaters have, the less there is a risk of buying a re-dyed sweater (since the black color covers any other tone, obviously, in case of dyeing errors we proceed with dark shades). Returning to the fibers: after cleaning, the fibers are spun, i.e. they are twisted together in order to obtain the carded or worsted yarns. The former are produced with shorter fibers and have a more hairy effect, the latter are thinner and produced from longer fibers: for sweaters, carded yarns are usually used.

What are the properties of cashmere and why is it so expensive?

It is the cashmere fibers that make it so warm, because it has an insulating power 10 times greater than that of wool thanks to a natural air chamber, but at the same time they are very light. Suffice it to say that the diameter of a cashmere thread corresponds to 1/10 of the diameter of a human hair, therefore the fleece of about three goats is needed to produce only one scarf. Real cashmere is expensive because it is one precious fiberobtained from animals that live in remote areas of the world, each produce a maximum of 100 grams and working it is complex.

How to recognize a cashmere sweater?

Your touch will recognize a cashmere sweater: soft and “cuddly”, it is a real pleasure to touch, especially if you choose a carded yarn sweater. Above all, it is important to read the label, because many items on sale are not 100% cashmere but blended yarns, where the precious fiber is however mixed with others, with different characteristics. A “winning” mix for a nice effect is the one with silk, because the final result will be shiny and soft to the touch at the same time. Cashmere is often mixed with wool, which is more resistant and easy to maintain, as well as cheaper. Instead, you have to turn up your nose when, reading the label, you see low percentages of cashmere compared to other fibers: the precious characteristics of the fiber lose value if it is 5% of a yarn, for example. Absolutely no to garments where the composition is in increasing percentages, because it is outlawed. That is: by law (Annex I of European Union Regulation No. 1007/2011), the materials that make up a garment must be indicated on the labels “in Italian, in full (no acronyms or abbreviations are allowed), with typefaces legible and clearly visible and in decreasing order of weight”. So if you see 5% cashmere and 95% polyester on a label, be wary, because the manufacturer has chosen to entice you by presenting the most precious component as the first component.

How to take care of a cashmere sweater?

The extraordinary softness of cashmere is unfortunately accompanied by an innate delicacy: to have a sweater that remains beautiful over time, you need to wash it carefully. It is not a fiber that fears water so do not dry clean it – unless the label requires it due to decorations or accessories that require it – but use cold water and a little neutral soap. You can wash it by hand, leaving it to soak for a short time and without mixing the colours, or in the washing machine, but using a delicate and short programme. For the sweater to maintain the characteristics with which you bought it, drying is an important phase: cashmere garments must be wrapped in a towel and laid horizontally so that they dry without losing their shape.

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