Ahhh cashmere, coveted by many who live in cold climates - it's easy to understand why. Finer, lighter, softer, and three times more insulating than sheep wool a cashmere sweater always packs the heat with zero bulk and feel good fibers. Until relatively recent (in the last 10 years), cashmere wool was usually reserved for those who could afford it (donned by the rich and wealthy many years ago). Today we can find cashmere sweaters ranging from over two thousand dollars to twenty-nine dollars (this is scary cheap for a cashmere sweater). So why is one sweater more expensive than another?
Like all garment manufacturing, the price of any good is based on the quality of the fiber or fabric, where the garment is manufactured (labor costs), how many goods are produced, plus the markup of the garment.
RETAIL PRICE = MATERIALS + MANUFACTURING (labor) + SHIPPING + RETAIL MARKUP
First, it's important to understand like everything in life; you get what you pay for, AND, when making apparel, a large portion of your garment cost is based on the cost of the fabric. When garments are inexpensive, the first place manufacturers cut cost is the fabric, OR, they simplify the design.
Second, it also helps to know why some fibers are more expensive than others and realize that natural fibers that come from animals have their own supply issues to tend to as well. So where does cashmere come from? It comes from the Changthangi or Pashmina goat found in the Kashmir region of the Himalayas including: Tibet, China, Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal, Ladakh, and Baltistan. As a result of being native to this region where climates dip below sub-freezing temperatures they have developed a fabulous coat of hair that keeps thme protected and warm. The cashmere fiber comes from the base layer of hair (closest to the skin) which is covered by a thick coat of coarse and often wirey hair.
Quality is what matters most when dealing with higher-priced fibers and for cashmere, this means capturing a lengthier cashmere hair vs. short. The longer the hairs, the better the yarn, the better the garment maintains it's structure, holds up over time, and does not pill as easily (common in garments using shorter strands). In an effort to reduce costs many manufacturers will mix both long and short hair yarns AND often blend cashmere with other fibers to create a "blend" and market it as cashmere (read your labels). It is then on the consumer to become wise to what they are buying.
As a result of our culture and position in the world there have been key areas of expertise in the manufacturing of knit garments, including cashmere. Scotland and Italy dominate the expertise and many knit brands still produce within those countries, however, China has also managed to develop deep expertise for manufacturers - some factories may work on mass-produced knits that don't demand complex designs and others might be of higher grade and have the machinery for fine knitwear and sewing needs. Both scenarios impact the cost of the goods.
A quality cashmere garment can last for years if cared for properly - it also doesn't come cheap (due to deep care and expertise in working with the goats, culling the hair, creating the yarn, dying the yarns, manufacturing, and overall quality control). This is why when thrifting or buying second hand, it helps to become educated on the brands to seek out and to understand the quality of material and quality of make (fabric, sewing techniques, stitching, and finishing) to help you really scream for the bargain win. It is not uncommon to think you got a good deal, when in fact you really didn't, especially with the saturation of mass-produced and fast fashion in thrift stores. Some of the best Cashmere and wool knit brands to find second hand include:
Loro Piana (Italy)
Brunello Cuccinelli (Italy)
Pringle of Scotland
We Thieves' loves cashmere, but we especially love finding exceptional cashmere for a bargain. We hope this article can help empower you to be more informed to the nuances of the fashion industry and help you make better choices for what you bring into your closet. Just like your food, we encourage you to read your labels.
Wishing you all a happy holiday shopping season with more empowerment for better choices.
Happy hunting and stay warm.
Sandra Rossi is the owner of We Thieves, a Boston based women's lifestyle store featuring a curated vintage wardrobe and independent designers. A brand, product and retail veteran of the action-sport and outdoor lifestyle industry with brands such as The North Face, Salomon Sports, and Nike, she worked extensively with natural and technical textiles and developed many products that perhaps sit in your closet today. Exhausted of the creation of new and seeing the amount of sameness and waste from the apparel industry, she hopes to transform closets, lifestyles for those that come into her store.
Goat image courtesy of Jahir Martinez