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 packs the heat with zero bulk and feel good fibers. Historically, cashmere wool was usually only donned by those who could afford it . 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 (Wikipedia) including: Tibet, China, Myanmar, Bhutan, Nepal, Ladakh, and Baltistan.
As with any native creature of that region, the goat has adapted itself with a very thick coat that is layered based on insulation and climate protection needs - the base of the coat, closest to the skin, is very fine and soft - this is where the cashmere fiber comes. As you move outward on along the coat the hair changes and becomes wirey and thick to help repel climate conditions such as snow, sleet, and rain.
The lenthiest hairs of cashmere are the most expensive as it forms the finest yarn. When the yarn is good 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.
What I have learned with manufacturing and working with a global sourcing team in my past career, there are key areas of the world that have expertise in key garment types, fabric types, and the like. Scotland and Italy dominate luxury sweater brands and mostly because both countries also have strong ties to wool sources and knitting expertise.
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