Cashmere is a material which has been used in garment making for thousands of years. It is made from fibres collected from a special kind of goat, known as a cashmere goat, and these animals get their name from the fact that they were first bred and herded in the Kashmir region. There are still cashmere goats in this part of the world today, however there are many more cashmere goats in Mongolia and parts of China.

Cashmere goat herds have evolved to withstand the cold winters in these parts of the world, and the fibres used to make garments are the plush, soft undercoat which insulates the animal from the cold. Each cashmere goat will only produce around 150g of cashmere every year, and globally around 6000 tonnes of cashmere are processed annually. There is a high demand on cashmere clothing, and the relative scarcity of the material drives up the price and makes it very exclusive.

The differences between cashmere and standard wool

When you look at the fibres which make up a standard wool garment and compare them to those of a cashmere garment, the first thing you will notice is that the cashmere fibres are much finer and softer. Sheeps’ wool tends to be relatively thick and coarse which can make it irritating to wear close to the skin. The fine nature of cashmere fibres means that cashmere garments are lovely and soft against even sensitive skin, and are much less likely to cause irritation for the wearer.

As the fibres in a standard wool garment are thicker and heavier than those in a cashmere garment, an item of clothing made from standard wool will always be heavier than the same kind of garment made from cashmere. The thickness and density of standard wool can mean it takes a while to dry and can be quite bulky. Cashmere, on the other hand, is lightweight and comfortable to wear in most weather conditions. It dries quickly and insulates you perfectly against the cold, but it is also perfect for keeping cool in the summer thanks to its breathable structure.

In addition to being lightweight and strong, the individual fibres in cashmere yarn are considerably longer than those in standard wool yarn. This is a key difference between cashmere and standard wool which has much shorter fibres. The shorter fibres in sheeps’ wool mean the garment will be more prone to pilling over time, and while cashmere will still pill to a degree it is usually much less noticeable and can easily be removed with a cashmere comb.

Cashmere is much more long lasting than other wools and it is not uncommon for a grandparent’s cashmere wraps to be in very good condition so that it can be passed on to the younger generations. Despite its relatively lightweight nature, it is durable and can take washing very well; it also has no special care directions in particular, other than those you would expect for a woollen garment.

How to care for cashmere

Cashmere, like all wools, benefits from being hand washed where possible and this is a simple and easy thing to do. To hand wash your cashmere garments, fill a bowl with lukewarm water and add the correct concentration of detergent which is designed for use with cashmere. You can then place the garment in the water and let it soak for 10 minutes or so to help loosen any dirt from the fibres. Once it has had a thorough soak you can then gently swish the garment back and forth in the water to remove dirt. Finally, rinse the garment in cool, clean water to get all the dirt and detergent out.

Having said this, one of the great things about cashmere is that it can be washed in your washing machine. To do this, you will need to carefully follow the care directions on the garment’s label. To safely machine wash a cashmere garment you will need to set your washing machine to a gentle cycle, and keep the water temperature cool at 30 degrees. Any detergent you use should be mild enough to use with cashmere, and you can find cashmere detergents online.