What Is Cashmere?

Cashmere has always been seen as a luxury material, reserved for the wealthy or a rare investment piece. With one touch you can feel the softness of cashmere. That alone may be worth the price tag, but there are many more reasons that cashmere costs so much. The high price tag of cashmere sweaters and other items starts with understanding what is cashmere and how it is made.

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What Is Cashmere Made Of?

Cashmere sweaters

 Getty/Shana Novak

Cashmere is made from the hair of the Cashmere (Kashmir) or down goat. This type of goat is specifically bred for the purpose of harvesting its hair to create the cashmere material that we use in sweaters, scarves, and other garments. It is more difficult to collect and process than other materials, like wool.

Wool is made from a sheep's fleece, the fluffy coat on the outside of their bodies. A sheep's fleece can be sheared off as one and is collected once a year. Cashmere, however, is made of the fine, soft undercoat or under layer of hair on the goat. The straighter and coarser outer coat is called guard hair. These two must be separated. And according to the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturer's Institute, it's quite the process. "The specialty animal hair fibers are collected during molting seasons when the animals naturally shed their hairs. Goats molt during a several-week period in spring. The down is removed by hand with a coarse comb or the animals are sheared."

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Why Is Cashmere Expensive?

Cashmere goat

 Getty/Daniela Duncan

As noted above, the labor intensiveness of collecting and creating cashmere is part of the reason the end products cost so much. It requires more work to collect the hair from each goat. And it take a lot of goats to produce a single sweater. According to a cashmere goat farmer interviewed for a Huffington Post article, it "it takes about four goats to make one sweater." All that work and all those goats means a higher price tag in the shop.

It's worth noting that labor practices in different countries also account for the end price of garments, including cashmere. And if the item is not local there will be less or more taxes or fees, depending on the agreements between foreign countries. Every step in the manufacturing process accounts for costs. So depending on where and how the hair was harvested, where the material was made, who manufactured the garment, where it was shipped, and finally in which store it was sold will all play a part in the overall price.

In addition to ethical labor practices for the farmers and manufacturers, there are ethical practices to take into consideration for the goats themselves. Treating and feeding animals with more care can often require more funds. You may expect to pay more for cage-free eggs or free range chicken because the animals are treated with more care. Similarly you may choose to pay more for a cashmere sweater or scarf made by a company that makes more ethical choices for the animals it uses to make that product.

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Why Is Some Cashmere More Expensive Than Others?

Cashmere material

Getty/narcisa

According to a Business of Fashion on "Why a Cashmere Sweater Can Cost $2,000 or $30" article, the final price of cashmere garments "depends on the quality of the yarn, where the garment was manufactured, the number of units purchased by the brand, and the markup."

The quality of the yarn has a large impact on the price. Think of cashmere like cotton sheets. A higher thread count on sheets can mean higher quality, durability, and a better feel. The same can be true of cashmere. Lower quality or lower cost cashmere is often made with one strand of yarn, while higher quality cashmere items are made with two to three strands of yarn. This not only helps the sweater last longer, but it also gives the final fabric a softer feel. The price you pay for that garment, then, will be higher because more yarn is being used to create it.

Additionally, the natural colors of cashmere are white, brown, and gray. In order to get the bold colors you see in the stacks of cashmere sweaters in the stores, the material must be dyed with great care. So cashmere garments in natural colors may cost less than those in dark, rich, or vibrant colors.

And of course, different brands may charge more for their cashmere because of its luxury reputation. In that case you may be paying for the label more than the yarn.

Because of its high value it's important to choose the brand carefully, and then treat and wear your cashmere items with care. Make sure you wash and store your cashmere properly!