When you think of Cashmere it typically brings to mind the idea of luxuriously soft comfort and expensive prices. Much like diamonds and pearls cashmere comes from relatively humble beginnings–the underbelly of a Mongolian goat. You might say Mongolia really? Yes, almost all of the worlds Cashmere comes from Mongolia, which is one of the world’s last remaining pristine ecosystem due to it’s sparse human habitation. This incredibly sparse human population and ridiculously high altitudes create some of the cleanest drinking water in the entire world. This delicious drinking water is what hydrates the goats and helps nourish their beautiful coats to enrich the soft fur on their underbelly’s.
Typically it would take a goat 4 years to grow enough hair for 1 sweater, so you can imagine how scarce the supply of cashmere for the world is, and if you remember your economics: when supply is low the demand increases causing an increase in price. The Cashmere can only be collected 2 months out of the year through a very delicate combing process, so as to not injure the goats. Once the cashmere fibers are collected they have to be washed and sorted by hand. Only the finest and longest fibers are selected to be spun into yarn that will later make garments.
The 2 main suppliers of the Cashmere Yarn are Chinese and European companies. It is important to understand that China has only been doing this for about 30 years, where-as the high end luxury European manufacturers have been making Cashmere for several hundreds of years. Judgements of China aside, it is understandable that European (specifically Italian) Cashmere is going to be the best in the world.
Cashmere quality starts with the fiber during the sorting process, as similar quality fibers are placed together to make the yarn more consistent for the sake of the final garment. The 2 main factors in determining quality of the fiber are Length and Thickness. Fiber length ranges anywhere from 0.8 inch for cheap cashmere and 2.5 for the most luxurious cashmere. When it comes to thickness the diameter must be less than 19 microns to be considered Cashmere (avg. human hair is 75 microns). The lower the microns the more luxurious the cashmere: Italian cashmere, what is used in all Harden garments, starts around 14 microns.
Buying less expensive cashmere is going to come with certain trade-offs, you’ll be compromising on the very reasons you buy cashmere: softness, weight, insulating properties, and durability. The reason being that all the sorting of the hairs mentioned earlier is to help find the innermost coat, you know that one that grows during the winter months to help the goats survive ridiculously cold temperatures at high altitudes and deal with the crazy weather fluctuations between day and night. The less expensive cashmeres will not have these qualities and their fibers will pill more readily and will lack that soft and opulent feel.