Cashmere: where does it come from and why is it so expensive?
Today we are proud to welcome you into this brand-new area of the website. Here we are going to publish deepens and insights, to let you familiarize yourself with our production processes.
Menchi is something more than a 60-year-old woolen mill located in the heart of the Prato textile district. In the last decades, we have contributed to the development of many Italian outerwear brands, playing a crucial role in the fashion industry. Year after year buyers come visit us to see our new collections, order their supplies and start designing their brand-new coats.
We are opening this section with one of the noblest natural fibres – cashmere. Our aim is to create small and useful guides. Article after article, our focus will be on the entire cashmere production cycle so that our customers can get in touch more deeply with the quality of our fabrics.
After reading, feel free to ask us anything you are curious about.
We’ll be glad to answer any of your needs.
What is cashmere?
Cashmere is a fine, luxurious and sought-after fabric known for its incredible softness, warmth, and durability. This fiber is obtained from the smooth undercoat fibers of goats, not sheep.
Cashmere wool can’t be produced all over the world. It comes from a precise area – that is one of the reasons why it is considered a luxury fiber. Then there are other factors that make this natural fiber one of the most expensive. The difficulties in breeding, the low production of fleece per individual goat, the difficult process of combing the under fleece.
Breeding the Cashmere goat aka the Capra Hircus
To obtain this incredible fiber, we use the undercoat of a specific breed of goats that originated in Kashmir, a region located in the Himalayas, between India and Pakistan. The Capra Hircus descends from Capra Aegagrus, a species of goat that originated in Central Asia and spread all over the world, adapted to live in large herds in cold, mountainous regions of Asia, like the Himalayas and Gobi desert. Without the harsh, cold climate, the fine air and the wild herbs – the final product is not the same.
Nowadays, most cashmere wool comes from China, Mongolia, Iran, and other mountainous countries and cold regions. It is a difficult type of farming. This goat loves the fresh air of high mountains and feeds on the wild grasses it finds on the steepest trails. This breeding exploits those poor and steep terrains where farming or breeding by others is not feasible. On the other hand, however, little textile fiber is obtained from a single goat-which is why it is necessary to have many animals to produce fair amounts of raw fibers.
Female goats, called does, give birth to one or two kids after a 5-month pregnancy. The kids drink milk for up to 3 months before foraging on their own.
OBTAINING CASHMERE FROM GOATS
- The fiber is collected during the spring molting season
- Goats are combed to remove the soft undercoat
- The coarse outer layer is separated from the fine undercoat
- Dehairing Cashmere by hand means removing all guard hairs – longer, coarser, lacks crimp black or white hair.
Have you ever seen a sheared goat? Cashmere goats are not sheared, they are combed for about thirty minutes. Only a small part of what comes from the combing of the undercoat, done in May/June, when there is hair warming, is suitable for spinning.
Goats have a raw topcoat and a downy undercoat. The topcoat protects the undercoat. The undercoat is the part that keeps the goats warm. It helps insulate the body in the cold winter months – just as this noble fiber protects us. At the end of the spring (and sometimes also during fall), the goats shed this undercoat naturally. The ultra-fine fibers are finely selected to become the cashmere wool used in textiles.
WHY IS CASHMERE SO EXPENSIVE?
Difficult breeding conditions are not the only cause of the high prices of this natural fibre. A single goat produces around 150 to 250 grams (approximately 6 to 7 ounces) of raw cashmere per year, a very small amount. As most of the work is done manually, it takes around a week to collect fibres from 100 goats. Considering that, on average, a cachemire sweater’s for men weight is about 300-400 grams (approximately 10 to 15 ounces), we understand what are the costs behind these products. It takes the fur of 2 goats to produce enough cashmere for a single sweater.
SUSTAINABLE FIBERS PRODUCTION
Is cashmere sustainable? Unlike synthetic fibers, cashmere is a sustainable material per sé – it is biodegradable and renewable. Breeding can also be relatively sustainable, as it does not require the use of pesticides or fertilizers to grow. However, in some cases, the production of cashmere can have a negative impact on the environment.
In recent years the cashmere goat population has grown due to the demand for cashmere wool all over the world. China and other countries have millions of cashmere goats. Large herds can lead to overgrazing and the lack of specific nutrients that are necessary to make the finest clothes. The density and dimensions of breeding settlements are really important. When there are too many goats, the risk is the degradation of grasslands and desert areas.
Sustainable cashmere production is an important issue.
Basically, this is a relatively sustainable fiber, as it does not require the use of pesticides or fertilizers. Goats feed on wild grasses and high pastures. They can graze on land that is not suitable for other crops.
OBTAINING THE FABRICS
The goats are sheared by hand, and the fiber is then processed to remove any impurities. The next phases in the processing of cashmere wool typically include washing, dehairing, carding, spinning, dyeing and textile production.
- Dehairing involves removing the longer guard hairs from the finer undercoat fibers.
- The Washing process removes any dirt, grease, or other impurities from the fibers.
- Carding is the process of aligning the fibers to prepare them for spinning into yarn. Separating and straightening the fibers makes them easier to spin.
- Spinning the fiber into yarn using a spinning wheel or other equipment is a crucial production phase here at Lanificio Menchi.
- Dyeing: the yarn can be dyed in a variety of colors using natural or synthetic dyes.
- Finishing: wet finishing involves the use of chemicals. Dry finishing uses physical processes (pressure, clutch, temperature).
- The cashmere fabrics are now sold by the yard to manufacturers.
MENCHI: TRADITIONAL CASHMERE FABRIC MANUFACTURERS IN ITALY
At this moment the yarn is sold to clothing manufacturers to be dyed, knitted, or woven into various products such as sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves, shawls, leg warmers, ear warmers, knee socks, skirts, suits, slippers, vests, baby clothes and many other.
Lanificio Menchi in Prato specializes in the production of fabric for coats and other kinds of outerwear (capispalla).
Keep following us. Here we will find other insights related to the uses and properties of cashmere, as well as other natural fibres we process.
ENTRA IN CONTATTO CON IL NOSTRO TEAM
Contattaci subito! Vi risponderemo al più presto via e-mail per fissare una telefonata e rispondere a tutte le vostre richieste.
Il nostro team è a disposizione per assistervi nella scelta e nella progettazione dei tessuti più adatti alle vostre esigenze.
Compila il form e saremo lieti di aiutarti