Its luxurious, rare and expensive: the wool of six kashmir goats is enough to make just one cashmere sports jacket
The only source of true cashmere is the kashmir goat (Capra hircus laniger), native to the Himalayas. Its fine undercoat hair is collected by either combing or shearing during the spring moulting season. After sorting and scouring, the fibres are cleaned of coarse outer hairs. Annual yield of underdown averages around 150 g per animal.
US standards set an average fibre diameter for cashmere of no more than 19 microns, and top quality fibre is just 14. It has natural crimp, allowing it to be spun into fine, lightweight fabrics. Cashmere has small air spaces between the fibres, which makes it warm without weight, while thin cuticle cells on the fibre surface make it smooth and lustrous.
CNR-ISMAC, Biella, Italy
China is the world's leading cashmere producer, while Mongolia produces the finest fibre (with diameter of around 15 microns). Other, smaller producers include Australia, India, Iran, Pakistan, New Zealand, Turkey, and the USA.
Production and trade
World annual production of coarse cashmere is estimated at 15 000 to 20 000 tonnes, or 6 500 tonnes of "pure cashmere" after scouring and dehairing. China's output is estimated at 10 000 tonnes, followed by Mongolia (3 000 tonnes). While most of China's production is shipped to fabric and garment makers in Italy, Japan and the UK, the Chinese textile industry has begun to also make cashmere garments for export.
Uses of cashmere
Cashmere is luxurious, rare and expensive: spun and woven, the annual fibre production of six kashmir goats is enough to make just one cashmere sports jacket.
The fabric is widely used as cashmere sweaters (at right) because of its warmth and in babywear because of its softness. It is also used as blazers, coats, jackets and underwear. Pashmina is a type of cashmere, used mainly in scarves and shawls, produced in the valley of Kashmir. Coarser cashmere is used for rugs and carpets.
To protect their industries, cashmere manufacturers in Europe, North America and Japan are campaigning for stricter controls on the labelling of cashmere garments.