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Different luxury textiles have come in and out of popularity but cashmere is a mainstay for sweaters and knits as the pinnacle of indulgence. Over the past few years you may have noticed that cashmere products have lowered in price and you can find sweaters retailing as low as $50. However you must be weary that it’s not actually the price point of cashmere that has lowered based on supply and demand, but rather an increase in variety of quality in cashmere. In fact, cashmere is what it is because it comes from a very specific donor. That donor is the fur of the under belly of Mongolian goats. Not only that, but it takes 1 goat 4 years to grow enough fur to create 1 sweater. Unless there’s been mass breedings of Mongolian goats that I didn’t know about, the likely truth is that manufacturers are getting more creative in weaving and labelling cashmere products.
Not all cashmere is created equal. I caution you to read product descriptions and small print carefully to determine whether you are actually getting a good deal on a particular item. In fact I often see a popular store in malls with the word cashmere in the name. Upon closer inspection all their sweaters and scarves are actually 100% acrylic and the store’s name simply implied the softness of their products to be similar to cashmere.
I am definitively not advocating everyone to spend more on cashmere, but everyone should know whether that $50 sweater is an amazing deal or comparable in price when taking the quality into account.
Here are some tips on what to look for to determine quality and therefore be well informed whether the price is worth it.
1) Europe, particularly Italy and Scotland, are known to produce the highest quality items. Japan comes in at second. Made in China products are generally inferior.
2) Cashmere fibers are measured and graded on thickness and length. The longer the nap, the more luxurious and higher quality it is. High end cashmere is close to 2.5 inches in length while lower end cashmere is less than 1 inch. The thickness is measured in microns with high end cashmere clocking in at 14-15 microns. Anything above 19 microns is no longer considered cashmere.
These magical mountain goat of Mongolia grow the longest, thinnest, softest, palest hair directly at the underbelly. The lesser quality hair that is coarser and shorter is grown on the rear end. I will let you come to your own conclusions.
3) Read labels carefully to ensure you are getting 100% cashmere and not a blend. Often times you may see a large label screaming “Cashmere!” only to read the manufacturing label to find out it’s been blended with wool, silk, or synthetic fibers. One reason for investing in a cashmere item is that the textile is known for its warmth. In fact it is 8x warmer than sheep’s wool, therefore buying a blend will exponentially diminish the ability to meet those standards. If the function of cashmere is what draws you to this knit, then you must purchase 100% cashmere.
A few years back I spotted a gorgeous grey ankle length coat. I grabbed the sleeve and read “Cahsmere” on the label. Looking closely, it was a wool blend coat. I bought it, but to this day I think of it as a great wool coat.
4) Often times you will see the term ‘ply’ or layers on the label. Just like buying facial tissue, the number of plies refers t the layers, but unlike tissue the more doesn’t necessarily mean better. Something that is knit and labelled as 2 ply may not be twice as thick as 1 ply because in the textile industry the yarn may have been halved in thickness before knitting it into 2 ply, therefore a 2 ply knit may be just as thick as a 1 ply knit. Additionally, you may find 3 and 4 ply cashmere sweaters. These additional layers may add extra weight or help the dye process, but it does not always necessarily mean a higher quality.
If I can impart any advice it is always to read the labels closely so that you know what you are purchasing before determining whether the item is worth the cost