Cashmere has a long and rich history, always praised as the superior wool.
Once reserved only for the most affluent fashionistas, over the past twenty years we all noticed an incredible increase in cheap cashmere available in the market.
The rise of cashmere created a curious wide price gap for similar looking cashmere knitwear.
Today, cashmere is considered an attainable and disposable luxury, which makes you want to claim your share of cashmere jumpers.
But the amount of options currently available makes the purchase decision daunting.
Here is what we are covering in this post:
- What are the 6 cashmere quality attributes that you need to know so you can compare “apples” with “apples” (in this case “goats” with “goats”) before making the best purchase your pocket can afford?
- What are the 4 other factors that influence the final retail price of your cashmere knitwear?
Let’s get technical and get to the bottom of the multi-price range issue:
6 Cashmere Quality Attributes That Should Affect Your Purchase Decision
We find prices of conventional 100% pure cashmere jumpers varying from AU$ 99 (Uniqlo) to AU$ 2500+ (such as high-end fashion labels ‘Loro Piana’ and ‘Brunello Cucinelli’) worldwide.
Finding out the quality of a cashmere product can be hard because brands often fail to share the information you need to make an informed decision.
It turns out that once you know what differentiates one product from another, you will be able to compare and understand what exactly each one offers.
Let’s analyse the 6 quality attributes that determine a cashmere jumper’s value:
1. Cashmere Quality Grade
During the moulting season in spring (from April to June), the herders either clip or comb out the hair of the cashmere goats.
In the mills, the raw cashmere hair is washed and visually sorted for quality grading and colour.
It is then ‘dehaired’, which is the task of separating the coarse hair from the fine undercoat.
The output of this process is the ‘pure cashmere’ separated into grades based on the length and thickness of the fibre, measured in microns.
The available grades are A, B and C:
• Grade A cashmere is the selection with higher quality, being its main feature their 14 -16.5 microns thickness, and 42 mm long on average.
The fibre is harvested exclusively by combing the hairs, a technique that herders have been perfecting for centuries.
Combing the wool preserves the animal’s wellbeing while enabling a better yield of longer fibres. As a result, it’s pricier than grades B and C.
• Grade B cashmere is cheaper but still considered cashmere. Fibres are up to 19 microns thick, and around 34 mm long.
Shearing cashmere goats is the standard practice where labour is dearer than in developing countries.
However, it is not the ideal method since a significant amount of the goats’ coarse outer coat (which is harvested along with the best-valued hairs) end up being discarded.
The resulting cashmere fleece is inferior to the grade A’s and requires further fibre sorting as well as excessive washing during the knitting’s finishing stage to achieve an appealing softness.
Grade B quality cashmere is used by most of larger clothing brands, especially when manufacturing jumpers.
• Grade C cashmere offers the lowest quality of the three and is not even considered cashmere by the US Government1. The grade C cashmere hair’s diameter measures between 19-30 microns and in average are 28mm long.
The grade of the cashmere fibres directly impacts on durability, softness, resilience and pilling of the resulting material. Here is a brief overview of each:
The longer and finer is the fibre, the stronger it is.
For natural fibres, the length and the length distribution are critical properties, which influence processing, performance and price2.
The length is connected with strength as it enables the spinning of more durable yarns.
Stronger yarns avoid holes on the final garment, given that the right number of plies and twists is applied to those yarns (see ‘5. Cashmere Yarn Ply Count’ below).
A yarn composed of long fibres achieves the softest feel as fewer ends are loose.
It creates a more uniform and smooth surface since it allows them to be tightly spun.
The resulted product is softer, displaying a more lustrous finishing as it facilitates light reflection.
The friction against fibres caused by normal wear of the material promotes the formation of small fibre balls.
It mainly occurs when the knit is made of yarns which were spun using shorter or a blend of different length of fibres, especially those that combine natural and man-made types.
Longer fibres pill less than short ones because it has less loose fibre ends, needing considerable more abrasion on the fabric surface to release themselves from the yarn. Read here about de-pilling your jumper.
Long cashmere fibres maintain their physical integrity for a longer time, allowing garments to retain their structure.
Because cashmere is naturally elastic and resilient (bounces back quickly), it has unique properties such as rapid wrinkle recovery, durability, bulk, lofty hand feel, draping capacity and warmth.
The ability for a garment to be extended or flexed repeatedly and then to recover to its original shape is a crucial factor of its appearance and comfort.
Aside from promoting good extension properties, resilience ensures that you don’t feel compression (caused by shrinkage), while avoiding that the fabric stays in a stretched condition, in which case, you will no longer want to wear it.
2. Colour of the Cashmere Fibre
In the cashmere colour spectrum, lowest quality and cheapest are the darkest colours that present the shortest and thickest fibres – this is the quality typically sold in the Chinese market and is often used by fast fashion chain brands.
Cashmere naturally comes in different colours ranging from white to grey, from beige to dark brown and black.
White fibres are the most valuable – known as the ‘white for white’ concept referring to the versatile blank canvas it offers in obtaining not only white and pastel tones, but also darker shades.
It’s not possible to use darker fibres to achieve white or lighter shades.
Lighter shades fibres require less dye to produce certain colours, avoiding less chemical modification to the natural quality attributes of the cashmere and less environmental negative impact.
3. Cashmere Fibre Country of Origin
The location where the cashmere goats call home does matter when it comes to fibre quality.
Those living in the Mongolian plateau areas, where temperature oscillates drastically, have thinner and more premium hairs. The plateau includes Inner Mongolia (north of the Yangtse River) and Xinjiang, areas generally regarded as the best origin, due to harsher winters3.
As a result, the goats in this region have a more restricted diet, supplying the finest under hair found in the most luxurious garments.
Our suppliers select only the best quality A-grade Inner Mongolian fibres.
4. Cashmere Yarn Country of Spinning
Once the cashmere fleece is carefully washed and dehaired, the next step is converting it into yarn.
Although the Japanese spinning and weaving technology have been showing outstanding results in the global yarn industry, the Italian and Scottish mills remain second to none when it comes to cashmere yarn spinning quality. Their craftsmanship is unbeatable.
Our main yarn suppliers are the renowned Italian mills who use exclusively A-grade cashmere sourced from Inner Mongolia.
5. Cashmere Yarn Ply Count
Singles and multiple-ply yarns
Yarns are made up of plies, which are the individual strands of yarn that are twisted in the opposite direction from how the single plies were spun.
The thinner the individual strands are, the softer garments it produces. This process makes the yarn stronger, so a ‘2-ply’ yarn generally offers higher quality than is seen in a ‘singles’ yarn (‘1-ply’ yarn), mainly because of the offset of the torque that exists in a ‘singles’ yarn.
Multiple plies are used by knitting mills to add colour or weight to the garment, but anything more than ‘2-ply’ yarn does not correspond necessarily with an increase of quality.
Even though some countries relate the number of plies with the thickness of the yarn, usually the number of plies does not affect how bulky the finished yarn will be.
You can have a bulky ‘two-ply’ yarn or a skinny ‘four-ply’ yarn, depending on how the individual ‘singles’ yarns were spun.
Fig.4 above illustrates how ‘ply’ yarns can also be plied among themselves, producing what is known as a ‘cabled’ yarn.
To make a ‘cabled’ yarn, ‘singles’ are spun with the twist in one direction, then plied in the opposite direction, and finally, the plies are plied together in the same direction that the ‘singles’ were spun.
As a result, very stable and sturdy yarn is produced, ideal for cable knit sweaters.
All of our products are produced using yarns with at least 2-plies. Our 10-ply Cable knit jumper will be available soon.
6. Cashmere Garment Country of Manufacturing
‘Made in’ claims informs about the manufacturing process involved in making a product. As this claim refers to the country where the processing has taken place, it doesn’t mean that the garment contains any fibres originated from that country.
Italy and Scotland are the worldwide leaders in tradition and heritage, showcasing utmost expertise in yarn spinning along with cashmere garments design and knitting.
The knitting craft is very distinctive to the cashmere clothing mass-produced in China since their technology has evolved in the last decades, while the European manufacturers possess a history of several hundred years. In China, they often lack the design capabilities of the high-end luxury mills4.
There are three main knitwear construction methods:
• Cut and Sew – produce the highest amount of waste and the lowest quality garment
• Fully Fashioned – the most common method for producing quality knitwear with minimal waste
• Seamless technology – main advantages:
ο No waste of precious material – increased efficiency and less environmental impact
ο No seams on the shoulders or sides – increased comfort, fit quality and clean finishing
ο Enhance of the great draping capability of cashmere
Artisans from small mills who work with us as well as with other world-class brands are focused on quality rather than producing fast fashion.
They offer decent conditions to their team, who are praised for their skills and treated as family. Conversely, fast fashion relies on cheap and child labour and even slavery.
They do not employ the ‘Cut and Sew’ method, being 80% of our products made through the ‘Seamless’ technology.
It matters to us having the best product made sustainably in responsible factories.
We aim to consciously produce timeless and made to last pieces.
4 Other Factors That Influence the Final Retail Price of Your Cashmere Knitwear
The following points refer to extra elements that also impact on the final cost of cashmere garments.
These are in line with the business model adopted by the brand, and although they are not required to comply with any requirements, you should be conscious of how the price tag was calculated.
1. Number of Units Purchased by the Brand
International chain retailers place orders for hundreds of thousands of cashmere pieces every year, driving final prices for a sweater to be as low as AUD 99. Even lower if not made out of pure 100 % cashmere, which takes us next to the fibre blends subject.
2. Fibre Blends
Blends consist of combining cashmere with sheep wool, silk, cotton or synthetic fibres, all cheaper materials that help to lower the prices.
Choosing a garment manufactured using a blend of different type of fibres is mostly like to be a compromise on the very same attributes that make cashmere such a coveted item – durability, softness, resilience, less pilling, superior warmth performance and appearance.
Look out for quality blends, stay away from yarns that contain man-made fibres. Blends employing a higher proportion of cashmere with natural long fibres minimises the loss of top performance that pure cashmere offers.
With the intention of catering to the cheap cashmere market, some manufacturers who supply to big retailers resort to some practices in the pursuit of balancing quality with cost.
It mostly happens during :
• The Raw material sourcing stage – Producing apparel from yarns made out of a blend containing different fibre lengths, i.e. yarns with a mix of grades A and B.
• The Finishing stage – Using Grade B cashmere, but in order to achieve the soft touch we so much love and see as the quality determinant, this inferior quality of fibres needs rougher wet washing finishing during the manufacturing process.
This over-wash process deceits us as it leads us to think that the divine soft handle means top quality, when in fact, the real grade A cashmere is not so fluffy at first – it gets softer over time.
The disadvantages of these approaches are that the garment becomes more prone to pill and its lifespan is cut short. We only use A-grade cashmere fibres, with no excessive wet finishing washing.
3. Cashmere Sustainability
The fashion industry, in general, is a significant player in the global air and water pollution due to raw materials, manufacturing processes, and transportation.
If you can avoid buying cheap disposable cashmere, that would certainly support a better system for the cashmere industry.
The flood of sub-standard products in the market has been contributing to hurting our environment. Although most of the Mongolian cashmere is organic (free from toxic pesticides and unbleached fibres), the initiative to improve environmental sustainability is still crawling.
While efforts in creating Cradle to Cradle certified yarns are evolving, the current best approach to contribute to this matter as a consumer is purchasing quality products with the intent to wear, maintain and keep around for an extended period.
The best white pure cashmere from Inner Mongolia (top-end grade A fibre) costs around US$105 -110/Kg (AU$133.54 -139.90/Kg)5. Australian dehaired superfine white cashmere down has recently reached an incredible price of AU$200/Kg6.
Transforming this raw material into yarn and then into garments demand costly processes that require skills and sophisticated machinery.
Therefore it’s most likely that 100% cashmere jumpers being sold for under the US$ 100 price point could be using:
• Grade B or C fibres that went through an over-washing treatment
• A blend of grades A and B fibres
• Other material than 100% pure cashmere
After adding in other related costs, including labour, transport, components, duties and additional tax fees, retailers usually mark their prices between 2 (often small companies apply a 50% markup) to 6 times, sometimes even 8 (high-end brands).
JURA APPAREL sells directly to you. We don’t source our products from wholesalers or agents. Our markup is under 50%, allowing a fair price offer of a luxurious product manufactured under identical circumstances as traditional household brand names.
With the emergence of lower quality cashmere blends containing grades B and even C fibres that result in high volumes of cheap goods in the market, you can’t help but ask:
Is it still possible to find legitimate, high-quality cashmere, produced ethically and sustainably that it is worth the investment?
Our focus is not limited to helping you to figure out your expectations and priorities.
We offer you luxurious products as a solution. Made of premium Australian design, using the latest technology and excellence from heritage factories.
Our cashmere is world-class quality, procured and processed following the tradition of reputable Italian mills.
Ethically and sustainably made, our cashmere knitwear will fit you perfectly and last a lifetime. And more importantly, at a fair price.
You have the right to be informed about the 6 cashmere quality attributes as clarified above.
They should be available in the description, on the hang tag or on the care label of the product. They are:
- USA Federal Trade Commission, Wool Products Labelling Act
- W.E. Morton, J.W.S. Hearle, ‘Physical Properties of Textile Fibres’, Fourth Edition, 2008, pg.134
- O.J. Petrie, Wool Testing Authority, Wellington, New Zealand, ‘Harvesting of Textile Animal Fibres’, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 184.108.40.206 Production of Cashmere
- Karl Spilhaus, President of the Boston-based Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers Institute for Los Angeles Times, December 2009
- Andrew Woods, February 2018, Mercado Expert Analysis’ analyst for The Weekly Times
- Terry Sim, Australian fine white cashmere valued at A$200 a kg in Woolyarns deal, June 2018