Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Everything You Need to Know About Cashmere

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photo, Craftzine, here. 

Have you ever bought a cashmere sweater, only to have it pill up impossibly on the very first day? 

Have you ever wondered how manufacturers can sell $69 cashmere sweaters, when such products used to run in the hundreds of dollars? 

Cashmere—the coat of the cashmere goat--has been a luxury fiber for almost three hundred years.  The last ten years have seen an influx of cheap cashmere into world clothing markets. 

Cashmere Goat

isn’t she cuuute?  Link, here

The good news is, cashmere is more accessible to many of us.  It’s even showing up in thrift stores. 

The bad news is, unless we know what we’re paying for, it’s possible to be very disappointed in a cashmere purchase. 

Here are some facts about cashmere that can help us make informed buying decisions (see my sources at the bottom of post).   

  • Whereas cashmere production originated in India in the 1700s and had spread to France and Scotland,  
  • Today, China has become the world’s largest producer of cashmere.
  • Quality varies according to width and length of fibers.  Width determines softness, while length determines strength.  Long, thin fibers are the best quality and will get softer over time. 

Photo from Lookchina, here. 

Test for Quality

  • Rub the surface with your fingers.  Poor quality cashmere will pill almost immediately. 
  • Crush the fabric in your hand.  Fewer wrinkles=better quality. 
  • Gently pull the garment; good quality springs back to its original shape. 
  • Look for pure fibers or wool blends only.  Blends with synthetics can indicate that poorer quality cashmere was used.   


“Pashmina” is not a fiber separate from cashmere and is used to mislead consumers into thinking they’re getting cashmere.  The word comes from the Persian word for wool—Pashm.  A garment whose fiber is labeled as “pashmina” in the U.S. is breaking federal regulations that state the exact content of cashmere must be disclosed. 

Care of Cashmere

Knit cashmere should be hand-washed. 

If you should buy less-than-great quality cashmere, and it pills up, try an inexpensive battery-powered fabric shaver or a sweater comb. 

Recent Problems with Cashmere Production

Mislabeling is a growing problem for U.S. retailers. 

In the early 2000s, when luxury items were at a premium globally, cashmere was “democratized” and manufacturers creating all sorts of new, accessible products. 

However, increased demand for fiber has resulted in mislabeling and items being sold as cashmere when they may actually be blended with other, inferior fibers.  These stocks are being sold to Chinese sweater mills as well to Western buyers. As a result, more mislabeled garments are expected to be found in retail stores.

The quality of cashmere from China is a growing concern.  In the mid 2000s it was reported that cashmere coming out of China was not regulated well and there were many reports of crossbreeding the cashmere goats with other goats, and mixing cashmere with wool. 

The Bottom Line

Before you drop hard-earned money in any amount on a cashmere garment, know as much as you can about what you’re getting.  There’s nothing wrong with a lower-priced, lower-quality garment as long as consumers aren’t misled about what they’re buying. 

From:  Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers’ Institute FAQ’s and U.S. Better Business Bureau article on Federal Trade Commission Regulations on Cashmere Labeling.  Albany Times Union, Dec, 25, 2004; “Italy Faces Mounting Threats to Cashmere,” Women’s Wear Daily Dec. 6, 2005. 




Frugal Scholar said...

I'm wondering--to what extent is pilling a sign of poor quality and to what extent an inherent characteristic of wool? I tried to find out more on this, but couldn't--so if you know, I'd appreciate more info.

Rosaria Williams said...

Great information here. Thanks, Sallymandy.

Unknown said...

good info, thanks for sharing. I do so love cashmere! Even the poor quality sweaters are supercozy replacements for sweatshirts at home!

Deborah said...

This is good information to have. I've certainly wondered how manufacturers managed to sell cashmere blend sweaters so cheaply. Now I know what to look for. Thanks Sallymandy!

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Helpful info sallymandy. A cashmere sweater I love now has a little moth hold even though I winter it in a cedar chest....guess there are hungry moths out and about in summer too.

Seth Sicroff said...

Pilling will occur with all wool fabrics (including cashmere) if they are rubbed enough. Wearing a shawl under a rough coat or a belt will usually cause some amount of pilling. The effect is more pronounced with short-fiber yarns; it also tends to diminish with use.

Your statement that pashmina is a term used to deceive people into thinking they are getting cashmere seems implausible, but maybe you are referring to the fact that the term pashmina is applied loosely to blended fabrics and in fact to anything that looks something like a pashmina shawl (i.e., with knotted fringes).

Sunrise Pashmina has the best pashminas, best service, and most information about choosing, wearing, and caring for your shawl.

If you cite "BlueKimono10" in the Ordering Instructions box at checkout, we'll discount your order 10%.

Seth Sicroff
Manager of Internet Sales
Sunrise Pashmina
607 256 0102

Duchesse said...

Please be aware that using a sweater shaver actually shortens the fibers. Pills are best pulled off by hand. (A TV-watching chore?)

I wash all cashmere in a sweater bag in the machine on delicate wash, in baby shampoo. Block and dry flat (on a table works well). Learned this method from my godfather, whose stores have sold the best Scottish cashmere for over 60 years.

Very good to great cashmere will last for decades! Many people today have been spoiled by the glut of cheap cashmere, so when they see a $400+ price tag they freak out. But once, all cashmere was this costly and people might only have one or two pieces ever. Now Gap sells (horrible) cashmere for $85 and people think they are being robbed when they see $450... but quality lasts.

Emily Kennedy said...

Thank you SO MUCH for this post. I have heard the alarm bells sounding about less quality cashmere on the market, but I haven't been able to figure out how I should respond as a consumer. I really really appreciate the bullet points regarding simple tests you can do before you buy. Thank YOU!

Marilynne said...

That is so good to know. I've only had two cashmere sweaters - and they lasted until I wore holes in them. I loved them.

Marthe said...

This is a great post!

I bought a cashmere sweater from uniqlo with a label that says dry clean only. Is that really necessary, or can I gently hand wash?

I feel that garments that are dry cleaned don't feel really clean.

ceecee said...

I wish I could say that I'm sitting here reading blogs in my cashmere robe but, alas, these pajamas are not even in the same category. (Not that I own a cashmere robe.)

Popping in to wish my friend a very Happy Valentine's Day! Have lots of chocolate, if you can.


Duchesse said...

I'm back to say that I've seen Sunrise's pashminas (some women I know have them) and they are gorgeous!

Cheryl said...

I love cashmere, nothing better in cold weather when you don't want to wear anything bulky, but was disappointed with this Banana Republic sweater I got recently. It pills more than the cheaper ones I got at Target. And the one I got from Old Navy didn't last more than a year.

Hope you had a great heart day!

ethelmaepotter! said...

Well, yes, I had been wondering about these less expensive cashmeres! I was wondering if it may be the same as with the horrifying "blood diamond" industry. Thank you so much for the info!

La Belette Rouge said...

Just last year I started washing my cashmere instead of taking it to the cleaners. What I love about that tip is that it allows me to wear my cashmere much more often.

Duchesse said...

Marthe, I wash all my cashmere sweaters. Put in sweater size garment bag in washer, cold to very lukewarm at hottest water, with Baby Shampoo, on delicate cycle. Go up one level on water setting so it is in generous amount. Remove and block flat to dry, turning sweater over when top surface is dry or very slightly dame.

Remove any pills by gently pulling off by hand.

You can also wash entirely by hand, same method, in a sink. But I have used machine for 25+ years, no problems.

OneCraftyFox said...

Wow, so good to know! I admit, I am addicted to cashmere... One of my fav outfits in my closet is a cashmere sweater dress.

Tracy Watier said...

Interesting. I've owned both cheap and expensive cashmere and did notice the difference in "crushability" and wrinkling. I also noticed that both make me itch! So no more cashmere for me. Better for my pocketbook I suppose :)

Elizabeth said...

Interesting. When ever I find a cashmere sweater on a thrift store rack and I have noticed a real spectrum of quality. Some are wonderful and others seem no softer than regular fine gauge wool. Now I know why!

soodie :: said...

loved this post. so informative!

i now only buy vintage cashmere from second hand shops or ebay. got so cranky with j crew's cashmere -- $168 for a sweater and pilled by the second wearing. vintage cashmere sweaters fit better and are nice and thick. and you can get them anywhere from $20-$40. i wash in washing machine just like Duchesse above. much better than dry cleaning -- cashmere more buoyant and not all pressed leaving you feeling like chemicals all over your body.