What is cashmere? Cashmere is the underdown shed annually by goats living in the high, dry plateaus surrounding the Gobi Desert, which stretch from Northern China into Mongolia. These goats have a coarse outer hair that repels the weather. Under that outer coat lies a much finer fiber, cashmere, which insulates these animals from the bitter cold.
Why is cashmere so expensive? The harsh geography of this area of the Gobi Desert supports a very limited number of goats. It takes one of these rare goats four years to grow enough cashmere for one sweater. Each goat is combed by hand every spring. Then the fleece is collected and sorted by hand. Cashmere sweaters are usually knit on hand-operated machines. Therefore, the scarcity of the fiber and the handwork required to convert that fiber into a luxurious garment both contribute to cashmere’s price.
Why do similar looking sweaters have very different prices? There are significant differences in the quality of cashmere, and therefore, the price of the fiber that can be used in a cashmere garment. There are variations in the fineness of the cashmere from various origins. There are also more subtle variations within origins. Finer cashmere is more expensive than coarser cashmere. Color also plays a role. The whiter, more expensive fiber needs less dye to color it. Dying harms the feel of the cashmere so this is important. Cashmere fiber is also priced by its length. Longer fiber is more expensive because it makes stronger yarn that pills less. All of these variables play a role in the cost variation between seemingly similar garments.
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