0

The Ultimate Guide To Cashmere

(An FAQ on everything you always wanted to know, and even some things you didn't)

By Chris Gillespie of Sojourn, updated 12/1/2016

 

Everyone’s talking about cashmere. It's great--it’s soft, it’s lightweight, it’s warm, but wait, what is it? Where does it come from? 

In this guide, we’ll walk you through everything down to how you should wear, love, and care for it. 

Questions and answers (you can scroll down or click the links): 

cashmere goats mountainside.jpeg

Q: Where does cashmere come from? 

cashmere goat headshot
I’m all about that goat, ‘bout that goat, with no stubble ...

 

Despite popular belief, cashmere is not wool: it's actually goat hair. Goat chin hair, to be specific, from the cashmere goat (Capra hircus langier). If you’re some sort of goat buff and noticed that there’s no difference between this latin name and the one for the common farm goat, that’s because there isn’t any. Any goat subjected to Himalayan colds can produce cashmere - cashmere goats have simply been bred to produce more.  

The name cashmere derives from a misspelling of “Kashmir,” the region of Northern India from which these goats and the famous woven textiles hail. Cashmere was popularized as a luxury good throughout the Western world under the British Empire. 

Despite having it’s namesake, however, India isn’t the primary producer of cashmere; China is. China dominates 70% of the world’s cashmere production, followed closely by Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan, and then by the central Asian republics, and then of course, India.  It’s estimated that around 7,000 tons are produced globally.

When every producer has their own standards for quality, finding cashmere that's genuine and unblended takes some work. More on that later. 

Q: Is cashmere the same as pashmina? 

 

Great question. Pashmina is a type of cashmere, taken from different breeds of goat such as the Changthani and Kashmir pashmina goat from the Changthang plateau or the Kargil region of India, as well as the Cehgu from Himscahal Pradesh region of India and Pakistan, and some areas of Nepal. Much like true champagne from Champagne, cashmere from this area is properly called pashmina. 

Now, the distinctions have blurred a bit over time. Pashmina was classically a finer version of cashmere, combed and processed more thoroughly. Nowadays though, the terms are used somewhat interchangeably, and there are varying levels of quality for both. If there is one big difference, it's that pashmina usually comes from the Indian subcontinent and has become synonymous with scarves while cashmere has become synonymous with sweaters. 

Fun fact: Pashmina actually means “soft gold” in Kashmiri and derives from the Persian word for “wool.” 

cashmere goat map
cashmere goat headshot 2.jpg

Q: Why is cashmere different than wool or cotton? 

First of all, cotton comes from a plant, and is finer and cheaper than wool or cashmere, but lacks their durability, warmth, or moisture-wicking properties.

Wool, on the other hand, is hair that's sheared from the backs of sheep and goats, and is considered more valuable as a fabric than cotton. 

And cashmere? It's is a nicer version of wool, made exclusively from goat hair that's taken only from the goat's beard and underbelly. This delicate hair is surrounded by coarse "guard hair," or wool that’s much thicker and rougher. To be used, it must be de-haired through a mechanical process. 

This process produces a thread that's far softer than regular wool and provides approximately three times the insulation of sheep’s wool. This makes it an ideal fabric for comfortable warm clothing.

 

Back to the top

Q: How do I know if it’s genuine cashmere?

Truth be told, the best rule of thumb for spotting fake cashmere is that it's extremely cheap. When good quality cashmere runs several hundreds of dollars and you find something listed for less than fifty dollars, you’re right to be suspicious. 

The US Customs office has specific distinctions for what constitutes cashmere. To be called thus, it must come from a goat and the hair must measure under 19 microns in width. For reference, human hair is 100 microns. The very highest quality and softest cashmere is sometimes as fine as 14-16 microns.

Pashmina is of a similar grade but right now there ins't an  internationally recognized designation for pashmina, which means that you’re right to be dubious of anyone claiming to sell pashmina that is 100% pure. In the eyes of US government, it's all cashmere. 

This all begs the next question: If someone claims that something is cashmere and it's not, what’s it actually made of? The answer is that it's probably a blend of cheaper materials like wool and cashmere, or a blend of wool, cotton, silk, or synthetic materials like rayon or acrylic. 

Spotting a fake on the internet is notoriously difficult, and you're pretty much just relying on the reputation of the seller. If you can get your hands on the cashmere, however, here’s what you can look for: 

 

Signs that it’s cashmere

  • Matte cloth surface (very little sheen)
  • Floppy
  • Pilling
  • If rubbed in a circular pattern, fine hair is pulled out
  • Label is sewn on with care
  • Hard to set on fire and if lit, turns to powder that smells like burnt hair (do be careful)
  • No long tassels or fringe, just a rough edge

 

Signs that it’s not

  • Sheen cloth surface
  • Stiff
  • Collects static electricity (rub with a balloon or plastic)
  • Label is glued on, not sewn on (thanks for this one, clandestineblack)
  • Easy to set on fire and either turns into a powder or hard lumps (see this guy’s video)
  • Long, intricate tassels and fringe around the edge

 

Further, if you can compare the article side by side with wool, both will appear rather matte and soft, but cashmere will have ever so slightly more sheen and will be silky soft by comparison. If your cashmere shawl or pashmina is very light, some claim that you should be able to pass it through a wedding-sized ring, whereas thicker cloth like wool or cotton will get stuck. 

None of these signs alone are definitive proof, but together they should give you pause for thought. 

 

Back to the top

 

himalayas.png

Q: Does cashmere shrink/stretch/pill/itch?

Yes, yes, yes, and no, but allow us to elaborate.

Cashmere can shrink or stretch depending on conditions.

Hot water will shrink cashmere (merely soak and then dry) whereas cold water and some vigorous pulling will stretch it out. We say vigorous pulling because it’s a bit of process: if you have a cashmere sweater that you’d like to make bigger, you’ll want to soak it in cold water and then place both of your arms in the torso and move them apart, stretching the fabric evenly. The same goes for the arms. Stretch, then relax. Stretch, then relax. If you aren’t careful, you can accidentally pull holes in the fabric and turn it into an expensive, lumpy little blanket. 

Never place your cashmere in the dryer as you’ll felt it. This pulls the hairs apart (you’ll know if you made this mistake because it sheds, tremendously) and causes it to pill up. 

Which brings us to our second point: yes, cashmere pills. That's when a fabric forms little balls of fluff all over it. This occurs when washing and stretching causes the fibers to separate, and then abrasion across the surface forms them into spheres. While perhaps unsightly, the doesn't affect it's durability. They're easily removed with a de-piller which you can find on Amazon for under $10 (no affiliation).   

And finally, does cashmere itch? No, it does not! It may get lumped into the same bucket as notoriously itchy sheep's wool, but wool's fibers are 3-4 times as thick. Cashmere is soft enough to be worn comfortably against bare skin. If your cashmere itches, it's either not pure or you could have a slight allergy to it. Don't take our word for that though, we're not doctors. 

 

Back to the top

Q: How is it made?

Rather than go on talking, I recommend this video. After all this researching, I found it rather relaxing. 

What's important to know, is that no goats are harmed in the making. 

 

Back to the top

weaving hands woven thread.jpeg

Q: How do I care for cashmere? 

Well, don’t put it in the dryer, for one. Most vendors will recommend that you dry clean it (which isn’t actually dry, or very gentle, I just learned). You can also hand wash it, which many claim will make it softer over time. Use a soft soap, like baby soap, Woolite, or Essence. 

For best results, try our partner The Laundress:  

 
 

If you do hand wash it, there are some things that you want to look out for: Once it’s wet, it becomes malleable and can stretch. Gently squeeze in the soap suds, and don’t rub with anything abrasive. If you wring it out heavily or hang it up to dry on a clothes hanger, you’ll distort it’s shape. Instead, dry it on a flat surface, which can take a few days. If you want to speed things up, RealSimple.com recommends that you throw it into a salad spinner to gently wring out more of the water. 

When drying it, don’t throw it over a radiator, don’t use a hot iron, and don't throw it in the oven (true question). I mean honestly, what are you thinking? Just chill out, let cashmere do it’s thing. 

 

Back to the top

Q: What’s the best way to store cashmere? 

Cashmere needs to breathe, and cashmere stretches. This means that you should store it folded, rather than hung, and don’t store it for long periods in plastic bags along with other clothes. If you’re going to store it in the offseason, fold it up and put it in a breathable cloth bag, of the reusable shopping type. We shouldn’t have to tell you this, but wash it before storing it, as unwashed knitwear of any kind, including wool, can attract moths. 

If for some reason you can’t wash it, The Tailor Retailored recommends that you toss it in a plastic bag and freeze it overnight to kill off any germs. 

 

Back to the top

flowers in a field background.jpg

Q: What is the best way to wear cashmere? 

No not that way! Kidding, wear it any way. It’s yours. Here, however, are some ideas. 

Q: Where can I find cashmere? 

Retailers all around the world sell cashmere in a dazzling array of colors, shapes, thicknesses (ply), designs, and blends. Everyone from J-crew and Anne Taylor all the way down to local vendors across India, China, and Central Asia. We think the greatest place to get it is from small businesses who work directly with artisans to create limited batches of beautiful neutral toned throws and scarves are the best, but that’s also what we do, so we’re biased. If you're interested, check out our oversized cashmere throws from Leh, in the Ladakh region of India. 

 

Back to the top

 

That does it for our cashmere FAQ! Hope you enjoyed, and if you have questions that didn’t get answered here, shoot us a note at chris@findaway.life. If it’s useful, perhaps it's even worth a discount. Who knows. 

 

- The Sojourn Team

man sitting on a rock with a map near water.jpg