Cashmere is a luxurious and soft fabric that is highly sought after for its comfort and warmth. However, not all cashmere is created equal. For the uninitiated, it can be difficult to tell the difference between low-quality and high-quality cashmere.
We fully believe in consuming within your means and have already introduced you to some of the best places to find affordable cashmere sweaters. But what’s a girl to do when she’s increased her income and has more room in her budget to buy higher-quality clothes? We’ve got the tips you need to know how to buy high-quality cashmere and ensure that you are getting the best value for your money.
Why is Cashmere so Expensive?
The wide range of prices for cashmere sweaters – from $50 to $5,000+ – can lead one to question the authenticity of the cashmere market and even the luxury clothing industry. It may seem confusing to pay a premium price for cashmere when lower-priced options are available.
Unlike wool that originates from sheep, cashmere is derived from cashmere goats, which primarily inhabit the chilly regions of Mongolia, China, and some parts of Afghanistan. In comparison to sheep, who are capable of producing 3 kilograms of wool annually, a cashmere goat may only yield 200 grams of fiber. This small amount of fiber is sufficient for a single scarf, but producing a high-quality cashmere sweater may require a fiber yield of 5 to 10 goats.
Additionally, while sheep are typically sheared, the process of getting cashmere from goats involves brushing them to get fibers from their soft undercoat. These brushed fibers are what cashmere clothes are fashioned from. This brushing occurs once per year in spring.
To put it simply, cashmere is expensive partially because it requires more labor and animals to make.
Over the past three decades, the abundance of inexpensive cashmere knits has made it challenging for consumers to differentiate between high and low-quality products. Brands like Uniqlo and Everlane offer cashmere knits for as low as $40 and $99, respectively, which has led to a surge in demand for the soft and cozy fabric.
The increase in the availability of affordable cashmere can be attributed, in part, to Mongolia’s economic liberalization and land reform initiatives. From 1991 to 1994, Mongolia nearly doubled its cashmere production from 1,400 to 2,500 tons.
This led to a significant increase in the number of goats in Mongolia. Estimates suggest that there were 5.2 million goats in the country in 1991, which grew to 25.8 million by 2004.
However, this rapid expansion of the cashmere industry has resulted in devastating environmental consequences. As goats need to consume grass to grow hair, overgrazing has caused the transformation of lush grasslands into barren wastelands. This has led to some of the most severe dust storms in East Asian history, as well as damaging the region’s water, soil, and air quality.
Additionally, the overproduction of cashmere has led to poor animal husbandry practices, overgrazing, and even starving goats, which in turn has negatively impacted the quality of cashmere. It is important to note that sweaters are made from yarns, and yarns are produced from fibers. As a result of these factors, the fibers have become coarser, leading to a decline in the overall quality of cashmere products.
The demand for a luxurious product at a lower cost has fueled these practices, with consumers unable to distinguish between a $50 and $5,000 cashmere knit. This has resulted in a belief that paying more is not worth it, as the entire market may seem like a scam.
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How do you know if Cashmere is Good Quality?
Now that you know how we got to this state of cashmere confusion, how would you know excellent cashmere in the wild? And yes, the internet counts as the wild.
Look for the Fiber Content
High-quality cashmere should be made of 100% cashmere fiber. If the fiber content is lower, it is likely that the cashmere has been blended with other, cheaper fibers, which will reduce its quality and durability.
Quality yarns are created by twisting together longer fibers. The use of longer fibers results in fewer potential breakage points compared to shorter fibers, which have more potential breakage points. These breakages occur through wear and lead to pilling.
Check the Thickness of the Yarn
To differentiate high-quality cashmere from cheaper alternatives, it is important to consider the quality of the yarns. As previously mentioned, overgrazing and other factors have caused some fibers to become coarser.
High-quality cashmere is made from fine, thin fibers, which results in a lightweight and soft fabric. If the yarn is thick and heavy, it is likely that it is not pure cashmere and may have been blended with other fibers.
Examine the Weave
Cashmere that is tightly woven will be more durable and last longer than cashmere that is loosely woven. A tighter weave will also provide better insulation, making the cashmere warmer and more comfortable to wear.
Feel the Fabric
After it’s knitted, a sweater goes through milling, which is essentially washing. Milling removes impurities from the yarn and adds softness to the sweater. High-quality cashmere should feel soft and luxurious. If the fabric feels rough or scratchy, it is likely that the cashmere is of low quality.
Consider the Price
While cashmere is generally more expensive than other fibers, it is important to remember that you get what you pay for. If you find a cashmere item that is significantly cheaper than other similar items, it is likely that the quality is lower.
Look for a Reputable Brand
Brands that are known for producing high-quality cashmere will use the best fibers, dyes, and manufacturing processes to ensure that their products are of the highest quality.
Where to Buy High-Quality Cashmere?
Expect to pay at least $400 for a high-quality cashmere knit, as it is made of premium yarn, requires a lot of animal hair and labor, and has excellent finishing. Don’t be misled by low-priced options like a $100 Uniqlo or Quince cashmere knit, as they may feel similar in-store, but their quality differences will become apparent with time in terms of stretching and pilling.
By following these tips, you can ensure that you are buying high-quality cashmere that will provide you with comfort, warmth, and durability for years to come. With a little bit of research and attention to detail, you can find the perfect cashmere item to suit your needs. Need a little help starting your search?