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Cashmere Explained – How to Buy Cashmere and All You Need to Know about Quality Checks

Cashmere Explained – How to Buy Cashmere and All You Need to Know about Quality Checks

Cashmere Explained How to buy cashmere and all you need to know about quality checks

Cashmere – “the” luxury material. If you want to treat yourself with something soft and luxurious – you are probably buying cashmere. These items retail for multiple hundreds, often thousands of dollars. But, there is also cashmere for the smaller wallet – Cashmere seems to be everywhere. I would even say it has been taken for granted. Even fast-fashion retailers offer cashmere items for under USD 100. But is it worth buying those? Why is there such a big price difference? Are people stupid who buy the expensive cashmere if you can get it at Massimo Dutti, Zara and the likes? Why is cashmere so expensive? What is cashmere actually and what do you need to look out for when buying cashmere products. I’m trying to keep it simple, many guides get very technical but I want to give you a quick overview and hands-on “tests” which you can do when shopping. Let’s look into this!

You can also watch my video here:

Cashmere Basics

Where Does the Term “Cashmere” Come From?

Let’s start with the basics – cashmere is a fiber made from the inner coat of the cashmere goat. The name indicates the region where it came from: Kashmir, a disputed region between India, Pakistan and China. “Cashmere” is the anglicized version of the term.[1]

How is Cashmere Made and Why Is Cashmere So Expensive?

This goat has two coats: an inner and an outer coat – the former is very fine and the latter is coarser. The goat has this coat to protect itself from the extreme weather conditions. The fine inner coat is just a small part of the overall coat of the goat and hence, many goats are needed to produce a single sweater or shawl. For example, to make one cashmere jumper, 4-6 goats are needed over the course of one year. You can now imagine why cashmere is so expensive.[2]

Cashmere goat.

The high-quality cashmere of the inner coat is harvested by combing – not shearing. The reason is that it is easier to separate the fine inner coat from the outer coat. If you shear, it is very difficult to separate them afterwards. Most of the time, the outer coat is shorn and used for “lower quality” products and most often non-apparel items. There are different grades of cashmere which relate to the diameter of the fiber, the length and the “ply”. The latter means how often the fiber has been spun into a yarn. This become really technical and I do not want to go beyond the scope of this articles and make it too complicated. Let me know in the comments, if you would like another article or if you would prefer to watch a more technical video about this.[3]

Even though the name cashmere relates to the region of Kashmir, most people think about Mongolia and China when talking about this material. Mongolia is known for cashmere because of its high plateaus. China, needless to say, has managed to establish kind of a mass-production of cashmere, which I am going to address in another article.[4]

There are different types of cashmere and there are also hybrids like “Cashgora” – which is made from a cross-bread of cashmere goats and Angora goats in Australia and New Zealand, Perino is cashmere mixed with Australian possum fur. And there is the extremely fine type of cashmere from northern India, Kashmir and Pakistan called Pashmina.[5]

What Is Pashmina and Is It Cashmere?

You all probably know this – it is commonly called Pashmina and for the longest time even I thought “pashmina” is the name of this type of scarf or shawl – with these tassels – and that it does not refer to any particular material. Many of these so-called “pashminas” are made from materials like viscose or even polyester and sold at markets and bazaars, at fast-fashion retailers at relatively low prices, often for less than USD 10. Of course, there are also higher-priced one. But you know what? Pashmina actually refers to one of the highest quality materials in the world.

You may now think – wait – should we not call it cashmere? Is pashmina cashmere? You are correct – pashmina is a type or variant spun of cashmere. And this is where the confusion stems from – there are “pashmina shawls” but they have to be made from pashmina, the fiber.

Cashmere Explained How to buy cashmere and all you need to know about quality checks Pashmina
Pashmina is extremely fine and delicate.

The term “pashmina” stems from the mid-19th century, from the Persian word “pashm” which means “wool”.[6]

Pashmina is made from the really fine hair of the goat’s chin. We could say, Pashmina is the highest-grade cashmere. It is combed out from the goat’s chin and as this is very little quantity, it is then often used for scarves or shawls. This hair is extremely fine but at the same time very soft and keeps you warm. Hence, it has nothing to do with the shawl I just showed you before. It is one of the most expensive materials you can buy. What is the difference between pashmina and cashmere? Basically, it is the diameter of the fiber – the cashmere diameter is wider than the one of pashmina making the latter very delicate. Therefore, the entire production chain of pashmina products is done by hand – combing, spinning, weaving and potential embroidering.

Pashmina shawls mostly have a diamond pattern – you can see that when you look closely. This relates to the type of weaving on the handlooms. Furthermore, pashmina shawls are very often not sewn at the rims, they are kind of left open. I also heard that if a shawl has tassels, it is often a sign that it was machine-made. I will have to research that and will let you know in one of my future articles.

Regarding the colour, if the cashmere fiber is kept natural, it has a light-brown colour which can be very beautiful. Then there are natural or vegetable dyes or also synthetic dyes. What you need to bear in mind, very bright colours are often from synthetic dyes because they cannot be made naturally. This can be a sign of lower quality but does not have to be, because if you just want a certain colour and there is no natural equivalent, you have to make it somehow. But in general, I always enquire about the safety of the dyes used – for me and also for the people dying and working with the yarn.

Cashmere Explained How to buy cashmere and all you need to know about quality checks dyes
Cashmere is dyed with natural or synthetic dyes – check if the dyes are certified and safe.

How to Buy Cashmere – 7 Quality Checks

There are two tests, which are often given online for testing the quality of cashmere: thering-test and the burn-test. For the first one, you take the shawl and it has to fit through the ring. I am not sure about this test, because I can also do this with silk, for example. For the burn-test, you would need to burn a tiny piece of your shawl or jumper and assess how it burns and smells. I would not really want to burn it or cut a piece off. Furthermore, I imagine it is quite difficult to do that in a store. So what can you do when you are shopping for cashmere products?

1. Softness

First and foremost, cashmere is soft. Feel the material, it should not be itchy. Nevertheless, this factor can also be misleading as many manufacturers chemically alter the feel of the cashmere. It may feel really soft in the store and after wearing it or cleaning, suddenly the fibers break or the material becomes hard and itchy. 

2. No “electricity” effect

100% pashmina or high-quality cashmere will not create this “electricity” effect on your hair or skin. 100% animal fiber will not lead to this effect. You can test the item by rubbing it against itself or against your hair or skin and see if there is this “electricity” effect.

3. Check the Label

Always check the label or the detailed product description. It even happened to me in the past – I saw a product in the store or online advertised as “cashmere”. I trusted the sign and did not double-check only to find out later that it was a blend. You know how I found out with one jumper? The jumper started itching and I got irritated patches on my skin. This jumper even was a blend with nylon! Can you imagine? If I had properly checked the details, I would have known and would not have bought it.

What Do We Need to Know about Cashmere Blends?

Cashmere is often blended with other fibers, because it is so expensive. Often, the cashmere which looks like a bargain is a blend and because of the misleading marketing I just mentioned, it is easy to fall for a trap.

A blend I can sometimes live with is cashmere with silk. If it is really 100% cashmere and 100% silk, I find it OK depending on the product. BUT: cashmere used for blends is usually the lower grade cashmere. Pashmina for example is rarely blended and also the higher-grade cashmere will not be blended. If you want genuine cashmere, look out for 100% cashmere on the label. According to regulations in the EU and in the USA, retailers have to declare the percentage. Again I don’t want to get too technical here.

Cashmere Itself Comes in Different Qualities

Even among 100% cashmere there are differences. Just because it is 100% cashmere, does not automatically mean it is good quality fiber. Again, this is very technical but it relates to characteristics of the fiber such as weight, diameter or ply. Another thing you can check is the origin of the material. It comes with an “if” though. For example, a jumper may have a label “Made in France” or “Made in Italy”, for example, but we cannot find out more about where the material or fiber has come from. Hence, I only shop with sources which disclose where their materials come from. Because I apply the logic of transparency. I personally do not buy anything with Chinese fibers because of the “mass production” issue before. This is my personal choice and opinion. I also only buy cashmere products from trusted shops or retailers.

4. Price

High-quality cashmere and pashmina have their price. Of course, it is not the only indicator but it is a hint. Luxury brands will have their margins on the products. But if a cashmere item feels like “a great steal”, it is probably too good to be true. Either it is a potentially covered-up blend as I mentioned before or the grade of the cashmere itself is low. 

5. “Gauge” Does not Give Any Information about the Cashmere Quality

Many retailers advertise by using gauge measure, this is the tightness of the knit. But in the case of cashmere, this does not mean much. If a jumper is tightly-knit, this is one type of information for the customer. But it does not tell us anything about the quality of the cashmere itself. they can use low-grade cashmere and just knit it tightly. Or knit it loosely to make it feel soft in the store, but then you may lose the shape of the jumper or shawl later.

6. Imperfections

High-quality cashmere products are hand-made and this comes with imperfections. I do not mean faults but if something is really hand-woven or hand-embroidered it will have slight variations. If an item is just too perfect, you can assume that it was machine-made and, hence they will have used lower-grade cashmere. With embroidered products, you can turn the shawl for example and check how well the back-side looks – too perfect is a sign for machine-made but also if the backside is very messy it is a sign that the handwork was also not that great.

Cashmere Explained How to buy cashmere and all you need to know about quality checks backside initials
Another quality sign is to check for imperfections and, in the case of embroidery, compare the front- and backside and look for the artisan’s initials.

7. Initials of the Artisans

If it is an embroidered item, like a pashmina shawl, the artisan will leave their initials somewhere on the shawl. Pashmina shawls are unique pieces, the colours and patterns and embroidery are based on traditions. The artisans choose the colour-combinations and patterns. 

Shopping Tip: Consider the Cost per Wear

In general, I always think about the cost per wear: What do I mean with that. A “steal” may cost me under USD 100 for a cashmere shawl while a higher quality one may be more expensive. I then look at it how often I will wear the item. Is it a design I will like for a long time? Or is it something trendy at the moment? Will the item lose shape or its softness over time? Will it then look bad or feel scratchy? Then I will likely have to get rid of it sooner than a high-quality one which I can wear more often. If I divide the purchase price by the times I can wear the item, the one which will give me joy for a longer period of time will win.

Cashmere Explained How to buy cashmere and all you need to know about quality checks cost per wear

What is your view on cashmere products? How do you assess the quality when shopping for cashmere garments? Please let me know in the comments or on my socials. I look forward to hearing your “hacks”

Are you interested in cashmere? Check out my collection on Pelagona!

You can also watch more fashion-related content on my YouTube channel. Feel free to like and subscribe, it means a lot! 🙂


Footnotes

[1] CFDA 2023, Natural Resources Defense Council 2023

[2]-[5] ibid.

[6] Merriam Webster Dictionary 2023.

Sources

The is article is based on the general knowledge of Liz Steiger and the following sources:

CFDA, Materials Index – Cashmere, last accessed on 20 October 2023.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Cashmere Goat, last accessed on 20 October 2023.

Encyclopædia Britannica, Map of Kashmir, last accessed on 20 October 2023.

Gentleman’s Gazette, Cashmere Explained, last accessed on 20 October 2023.

Gentleman’s Gazette, “Budget” Cashmere: Myth or Magic? (Uniqlo, Everlane, & More), last accessed on 20 October 2023.

Merriam Webster Dictionary, Pashm, last accessed on 20 October 2023.

See Also
Salzburg Mini Guide All You Need for a Weekend in Salzburg Sunset

Natural Resources Defense Council, Soft Cashmere Is Hard on the Environment, last accessed on 20 October 2023.


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