Can luxurious cashmere be responsibly sourced? The short answer is: yes, but it’s complicated. Essentially, not all cashmere is created equal. Simply because sustainably-sourced cashmere is a rarity in today’s world.
At the moment, a variety of unsustainable production methods are used to create much of the cashmere sold commercially on the market. Motivated by the excessive consumption of the fast fashion industry, the impact on the overall ethical production of cashmere has not just affected quality but local artisans and the rich tradition of the Kashmir shawl that goes back 600 years.
The Dangers of Commercial Cashmere
Traditionally, well-made cashmere goods were luxury purchases people made with the intention to one day pass them down to their loved ones. Sadly, this practice has waned considerably because currently, the market is flooded with unethical and cheaply made cashmere products manufactured to appease mass-fashion outlets. The majority of these goods are sourced primarily from the Gobi Desert, an area in Asia that spans from Northern China to Mongolia.
The production process begins when workers on goat farms collect the belly hair of the goats before sorting it by hand and shipping it to a facility (typically in China) to be cleaned. After the hairs have been refined, they’re packaged and sent to Europe to be processed by machine into a fiber. Finally, the cashmere is sold directly to designers for about $114 per pound. However, unfortunately, this has deeply affected the well-being of the goats, the environment, and local herders.
How Does This Impact Animals, People & the Planet?
The goats used for cashmere have very little body fat to shield them in the winter from the cold climate of the region, which can drop to as low as -40˚F. Instead, they naturally develop warm fibers on their underbelly to survive. Yet, all too often, commercial producers will collect the hairs in mid-winter, which is too early and can cause the goats to freeze to death. Some producers will also shear the goats for their wool, a technique that can cut them and lead to pain or discomfort.
For local goat herders, working conditions are a concern. Additionally, they face the risk of being underpaid. Furthermore, the grassland regions of the Gobi Desert are also in constant a state of flux; as more goats are needed to produce the same amount of cashmere, leading to overpopulation. More goats to feed means that the land is quickly becoming drier, and grassless—a problem that disrupts the ecological balance of the region, and the planet.
Luckily, there is still a small yet reliable community of authentic Kashmiri artisans and companies working to preserve the unique legacy of this fine, famous fiber.
Responsible Cashmere: Where Does it Come From & How is it Made?
Pure, and sustainably-sourced cashmere comes directly from happy and healthy Ladakhi goats tended to by traditional herders in their natural habitat, the Changthang area of Ladakh in Kashmir. In spring, when the goats naturally begin to shed their winter coats, the soft undercoat is collected by combing the goat, rather than by shearing.
After the fibers are refined, native Kashmiri artisans work diligently to transform them into luscious cashmere fabric using ancient hand-weaving techniques and arts from 15th century Persia. This intricate and elaborate process is precisely why real, genuine cashmere has a reputation for being such an ultra-fine and coveted textile.
Investing in Authentic & Sustainably-Sourced Cashmere
When looking for cashmere, remember: you get what you pay for. Cheaper products are a strong sign that the cashmere comes from a questionable source that cannot be traced. On the contrary, the price of authentic cashmere will most often reflect the quality and longevity of the item.
Still, it’s also important to know the difference between a trustworthy company and a mass-producer of fake goods. Make sure to invest in cashmere from a brand that is transparent about its supply chain. It’s also crucial to purchase goods with direct ties to the Kashmir Valley that are made by a small company that can show you they have a clear commitment to the region and its sacred art forms.
At Andraab, our cashmere is always sourced from responsible suppliers who we know and trust. Generation after generation, they remain dedicated to the ancient Kashmiri production process—utilized for centuries to create lavish and one-of-a-kind cashmere; globally admired for its exceptionally luxurious feel and elegant appeal.
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