Ever went shopping for winter wraps, and accidentally touched the softest thing on earth? There is a high chance that you have had the first experience with Cashmere. Cashmere scarves are soft, fine, lightweight, and hence a luxury to own. But the huge price tags often seem worrisome for several individuals who might not know what Cashmere is.
Cashmere is often called Cashmere wool. But surprisingly it is not wool. It is the hair of a rare goat. These goats grow this exceptionally soft and fine fleece as a defense mechanism against freezing cold. But they grow such a small quantity of the same that 2 or 3 goats have to be combed to get fibre for a single wrap. This, and many more reasons to justify the high prices of Cashmere. But first, let's know more about this luxury fibre.
Origin of Cashmere Scarves
The term Cashmere is an anglicization of Kashmir, the hometown of Cashmere, coined by Europeans. It was first discovered by Shah E Hamdan, a Sufi saint, who visited the valet from Persia. As he realized the luxurious texture and feel of Cashmere, he ordered socks to be made out of this wool type. This pair of exceptionally plush socks was gifted to the then king Zain ul Abideen, who being highly impressed ordered manufacturing units to be established for the processing of raw Cashmere.
As Cashmere scarves from Kashmir gained prominence, it was shortly exported to Europe, especially France and Scotland. Craftsmen in these countries later came up with their own version of Cashmere products. Yet their wealthier population still ordered wraps from Kashmir, even if it meant paying heavy prices. Upper-class British women prized the fabric for its lightweight texture and subtle warmth. (Pure Cashmere is up to 8 times warmer than sheep’s wool, despite being a lot lighter than the same).
It is believed that from the 1500s to the early 1900s, Iranian and Indian kings and emperors used Cashmere scarves in their religious ceremonies. If a ruler presented a Cashmere wrap to another, it would mean acceptance of a condition and established a hierarchy between the giver and the receiver.
Where do Cashmere goats live?
Changthangi goat is a medium-sized domestic goat breed. It is raised for its wool production. These are most often white in colour but also seen in black, gray, ash, or brown. Changthangi goats have large curved horns and long coats. They are recognized by short and straight ears and the thick undercoat that helps them survive the cold.
These goats are found in China, Mongolia, Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, and the Changthang valley of Ladakh. The finest Cashmere is the one found in Ladakhi goats, also known as Changthangi goat. It is used to make Kashmiri Pashmina shawls.
White is the most prevalent colour as far as the Cashmere goats are concerned. But their shades may vary. Female goats are around 30 kgs in weight, whereas males are 30 kgs in just 3 years. The goats give just 150-250 grams of Cashmere per year, making the fire rarer. It takes the wool from 3 to 4 goats to prepare one Pashmina shawl.
Cashmere goats are alert and cautious, not placid and lazy. Their temperament befits their lifestyle, where there is a risk of predation often.
Inhospitable Conditions of Ladakh
Rearing animals in the plateau of Changthang is not an easy task. The region offers extremely inhospitable conditions, where even the acquisition of basic essentials is a challenge. For centuries, the nomadic shepherds have been living there, moving their animals from one place to the other every few months, looking for fresh grazing pastures. Yet now, even this life is being challenged by climate change as well as fake Cashmere scarves exports from China, which has made life more complicated for these people, who just need basic essentials to survive
Also read: Empowering Pashmina Artisans
Why is Cashmere Expensive?
Cashmere is expensive, and we feel rightful so. The Changpa tribe makes sure that the goats gently get combed during the spring moulting season. Later the collected undercoat is sorted manually and pure is separated from impure wool as well as dirt and dust. A goat produces merely 150 grams, and processing these 150 grams is a painstaking activity. It takes a few months to a year for the most highly skilled artisans to work over handlooms for preparing a single wrap. These wraps are then exported to countries all over the world and sold in hundreds to thousands of dollars. This makes Cashmere expensive, as well as one of the most demanded fabrics around the world. Here are a few more reasons which show why Cashmere scarves are expensive.
Cashmere is the king of fibres
The chilling cold in the Changthang region triggers the growth of Cashmere over the body of the goat. The wool hence grown is super soft, thin, lightweight yet exceptionally warm and cozy (when hand woven into a fabric). It is considered the king of fibres and this has been so for centuries. The diameter of one strand of Cashmere is just 12 to 16 microns. Being so fine doesn’t stop it from being one of the warmest materials on the earth and 8 times warmer than the sheep’s wool). Cashmere scarves hence made are the most luxurious wraps on earth.
How is Cashmere collected?
From the way it is manually acquired to the completion of a Cashmere scarf , every process is immensely labour intensive in Cashmere production. Raw wool is collected from the mountain ranges as soon as Spring sets. The goat is in its moulting period, and hence sheds a portion of its wool. This wool, spread all over the region as well as the portion still stuck to its body, is collected and cleaned. It is sent for processing, where it meets spinners and weavers to produce a luxury fabric. Every step is ethical, and there is no animal cruelty associated with wool collection.
There would be no Cashmere production in the world if it wasn't for the meticulous efforts of its craftsmen in Kashmir. From cleaning to spinning to weaving and embroidery, every single process is manual in the making of the world-famous Kashmiri Pashmina shawls. Cleaning takes 3 to 4 days, and then spinning takes a few months. Weaving takes another few days, and then embroidery might even take years to complete. All this time local artisans just use their skill and decades-old experience to craft masterpieces.
Also read: How are Pashmina Shawls made?
Timelessness of Cashmere scarves
Cashmere is timeless. A Cashmere scarf which is 30 years old looks as elegant as a fresh piece. This owes to the manual labour that is put into it, and the regal demeanour that Cashmere scarves exhibit. It was the timelessness of Cashmere scarves that made Empress Josephine an admirer of these and order a few hundred wraps in her life.
Rare, Limited Production of wool for making Cashmere scarves
The wool from Cashmere goats is acquired in the Spring and Summer seasons and the sale has to start in winter. Because the moulting is season-defined, manufacturers have to wait for an entire year to receive the raw wool in order to start preparing Pashmina shawls or Cashmere scarves. This limited production makes it rarer and hence valuable.
Also read: Are Cashmere scarves worth it?