Origins of Cashmere


Origins of cashmere

Have you been wondering where your cashmere shawls came from? Are you asking why ponchos made of cashmere are more expensive than products made of other types of wool? It is because of the wool’s low supply and costly production process.


Cashmere wool comes from the soft undercoat of goats that are specially bred for the purpose. The wool from two goats are needed in order to make a two-ply sweater. It involves a tedious process of separating the fibres of the warming undercoat from the coarser protective top coat. Harvest of the wool usually takes place during the spring malting season. Harvesters have to comb and sort the hair of the goats by hand.


These are the reasons why shawls and ponchos made of cashmere are expensive in Australia or any parts of the world than those made of sheep’s wool. Cashmere’s global production rate is just a small portion that of sheep’s wool.  


The word cashmere comes from the old spelling of Kashmir, which is where the production and trade of the wool originated. According to historians, from the 1500s to the early 1900s, Iranian and Indian rulers used cashmere shawls in religious and political settings. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Kashmir had a successful industry making shawls from goat downs imported from Tibet. The trade was the result of treaties signed after the end of previous wars.


It was in the late 18th century when cashmere shawls made its way to Europe. Joseph Dawson, Scottish textile manufacturer, found shawls in India and started importing the wool to his factory in Scotland. He sold the shawls and ponchos to rich British women who sought the material for its warmth and softness. France claimed to be the first European country to commercially spin cashmere. And by 1830, producing shawls with yarn made in France had become a vital Scottish industry.


Not all cashmeres are created equal. Properties such as texture, length of the fibres, and colour affect the pricing. Whiter cashmere fibres are more expensive because they require less dye. The quality of the wool also depends on where they are from. The goats from Inner Mongolia produce wool with finer hairs that are considered the highest quality. Goats in that region experience harsher winters and more meagre diet.


While cashmere has been traditionally produced in Mongolia, China, India, Afghanistan and Iran, there are goat breeders in Australia, New Zealand and the United States. However, the wool production in Australia is measly compared to that of China, which is the leading producer of the wool, but the best raw material can be compromised by poor finishing process. This is why Europe and other Asian countries have become the leading sources of premium products due to their mastery of cashmere manufacturing processes.