What’s the first thing you associate with cashmere? Do you think about cost, cooler weather or luxury? Or do you see it as something to put on a wish list? In this post, I’ll offer some tips on what to look for if you’re treating yourself to it (or preparing to drop hints to someone). I’ll also share what to expect from your cashmere pieces along with some care tips and lastly, I’ll share my experience with a piece from N. Peal and Brunello Cucinelli and how both have evolved since I’ve had them.
What exactly is cashmere?
Cashmere is technically a hair and it can be worn year round depending on the weight.
What is cashmere’s source?
Cashmere is generally harvested from goats in Mongolia, Turkey, China, Iran and Afghanistan. Mongolia is landlocked by China and Russia and produces about a third of the world’s cashmere. With brutally hot summers and brutally cold winters, a sparse population and massive amounts of land, cashmere goats (Capra Hircus) have quite a bit of terrain to wander around in.
When is Cashmere harvested?
Harvesting cashmere hairs generally occur around Springtime. The goats shed hairs naturally as the weather warms up, so locals harvest hairs that have fallen as the goats continue to travel over their terrain. Using cashmere for warmth appears to date back to the thirteenth century. For most of the twentieth century up to about the 1990’s, exports of cashmere primarily went to Europe. Once disposable income in China began to increase, coupled with increasing demand worldwide, cashmere has become much more sought after.
What’s in my closet
In the last few years, I’ve developed a keener interest in cashmere’s origin and its place in the garment industry. While wandering around online, I landed on the N. Peal website, a British company that has been in the cashmere business since 1936. Truthfully, the more I read about cashmere and what to look for, the more uninspired I became by what I was seeing in stores, so finding N. Peal was definitely a watershed moment.
N. Peal Superfine Cropped Cashmere Cardigan in Oyster (oyster is no longer shown on the website but the link shows a similar colour), arrived in a stunning box adorned with their stamped ribbon.
With three-quarter length sleeves and a cropped style, this is a welcome change from the typical boxy styles that tend to litter the general market. In terms of fit, the cut is true to size. If you have slightly bigger or bingo arms (like me but I try to work on them……sometimes) and if you plan to layer it over dresses or blouses I’d suggest purchasing a size up. With secure and well-crafted seams, this should ease any concerns about holes forming, especially if you tend to be rough on your clothes. After a couple of wears, I started to see some pilling directly under the arms but I was able to remove those easily. Generally, cashmere will pill a little bit, especially when the garment is new. This sweater is light enough that you can use it during a windy summer evening, in early fall or late spring.
After each wear, I simply fold it onto a hanger and let it air out for a day, away from sunlight, then fold and put away. More than a year has passed since I’ve had this sweater and it has not lost its shape. While there is a bit of pilling, it’s not excessive and can easily be removed.
Cashmere sweaters should never be placed onto a hanger from the shoulders as this may stretch the item. N.Peal has a beautifully designed website that is easy to navigate and has several currency options for purchases including US Dollars. Their style and colour options span the spectrum from classic neutrals such as oatmeal, navy and black to punchier colours such as corn blue and tea rose.
Moving now to Brunello Cucinelli, a namesake brand founded by a powerhouse visionary whose childhood was not even close to luxury. The brand is centred in the hamlet of Solomeo, a small town in Umbria, Italy. Brunello Cucinelli began by producing a handful of cashmere sweaters that he dyed in bright colours, as his intention was to go counter to the conventional colour scheme at that time.
Brunello Cucinelli’s corner of the cashmere market is enviable. There are other Italian brands such as Loro Piana or Scottish brands such as Johnstons of Elgin that boast impeccable reputations and products as well, but Brunello Cucinelli is not just a man or a luxury brand. It is a ‘movement’, a belief system even, because of all it’s founder has done to restore the town in which his brand is headquartered. Cucinelli is moved by great thinkers such as Kant and Marcus Aurelius, he believes in paying his workers well and treating them well.
He has breathed life into the presentation of the arts in his town and allocates a percentage of annual sales to causes earmarked for improving the lives of others. As expected, the sweater is soft yet weighty and if carefully looked after, can easily be worn many years to come. In a neutral oatmeal with a neckline that is finished with Cucinelli’s signature Monili bead trim, this is a versatile and timeless piece.
This is a dolman sleeve sweater and is warm enough to eliminate the need for another sweater on top unless you become cold easily. As roomy as it is, it’s also good for layering. I’m at about the two-year mark with this sweater and it is entirely free from pilling, has retained its shape and none of the beading on the neckline has shifted or fallen off.
The seams of a cashmere sweater matter almost as much as the quality of the hairs used. When I look at the seams of this Brunello Cucinelli sweater and compare it to the seams of other pieces, the difference is striking. These seams are durable and evenly done, giving the inside a clean finish to bear testament to the keen attention given to the construction, shape and finish of the garment. With unparalleled quality, superb design and an enigmatic leader at its helm, anything from Brunello Cucinelli is an investment and will be a pleasure to wear and enjoy for years to come.
The Cashmere Industry’s Outlook
The cashmere industry’s future hinges on several factors. Goat herd sizes, availability of grasses for feeding along with a changing physical landscape for grazing, value for farmers, industry changes, consumer demands, quotas and changes in climate are all slated to impact the cashmere industry. Added to that, technical advances in machine produced fibres may also have an impact in addition to genetic modification of goats to make them produce hairs that hit the mark more frequently for use in the industry.
The industry is in a state of flux so it continues to seek its footing while being impacted by highs and lows, regulatory changes and even animal rights and environmental advocacy.
Despite this, the allure of cashmere is likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future. It’s easy to find a cashmere sweater at bargain prices, but be aware that bargain cashmere buys, while tempting and useful for a season, will not deliver on quality, longevity or craftsmanship, thus, you’ll get what you pay for.
- Plan ahead for your purchase
- Only purchase 100% Cashmere.
- Give a little tug to the garment if you’re in the store. The garment should revert to its shape. If you find the garment itchy or if you run your fingers over it and it begins to form balls, leave it.
- For online purchases, give thought to whom you’re purchasing from. There are many companies who specialise in cashmere and have done so for decades, some bordering on a century. Therefore choose wisely.
- Inferior fibres can be hidden by making the garment in a darker shade such as black or navy.
- Examine the garment on the inside, check the seams. If there are irregularities or portions of the garment that are thinner than other parts, leave it.
- Ply Matters
- 2-ply Cashmere is a good place to start and is easy to access. Higher ply counts are available but be prepared to spend even more.
- Single ply garments are less durable but can work in warmer temperatures.
- The best cashmere products (sweaters, scarves, gloves etc.) come from Italy and Scotland. Raw materials of the highest quality come from Inner Mongolia and are then spun in Italy and Scotland.
- Recycled cashmere exists and many companies have begun to offer products using recycled material, but durability won’t match that of virgin cashmere.
- Top quality cashmere gets better with wear and proper care.
Cashmere Care Tips
- I prefer to hand-wash with cool water, specifically using a cashmere soap made with quality ingredients. If your washer has a hand-wash cycle, that may be an option as well.
- Alternatively, if you have a relationship with a trustworthy dry-cleaner, entrust your garments to that person.
- You may iron your pieces using a low setting and an ironing cloth between the garment and the iron.
- Cashmere should be stored with lavender or mothballs and inside of a dust bag. Cardboard boxes, unless they are acid-free, should be avoided.
- Over time, pilling will occur as it’s part of the natural evolution of a cashmere garment. A cashmere comb will easily remove pills.