What is Cashmere?
Cashmere is the soft downy undercoat of a particular species of goat aboriginal to northern Asia. Except for the face and legs, this downy undercoat covers the entire body and helps goats survive harsh winters where temperatures can dip as low as -40°C.
Where does Cashmere come From?
The Central and East Asian steppes, where cashmere is almost exclusively produced, offer the right cold and dry climate for creating fine fibre. The two largest producers, Mongolia and China, account for 85% of global production. Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Nepal, India, and Turkey are some countries that produce cashmere.
What are the steps involved in the processing of Cashmere?
During late spring, the goats begin to shed the thick coats that kept them warm and cosy during the snowy winters. As herders observe the goat in discomfort, they immediately start combing their goats carefully. Herders then sell this raw or “greasy” Cashmere wool to traders, who in turn sell them to manufacturers for processing.
Before being washed to remove dirt and impurities, the fibre is sorted by quality and colour and then “de-haired” to separate coarse outer hair from fine underlayer. After being thoroughly cleaned, the cashmere is spun into yarn, which is then knitted or woven into finished clothing all over the world.
Why is Current Cashmere Production not Sustainable?
Goats are infamously careless eaters who rip all kinds of plants up from the roots, causing a loss in biodiversity. These goats’ pointed hooves can erode the soil beneath them and slash into it.
The number of goats is increasing, land use practices are changing, and the management of rangelands is inadequate, which results in overgrazed and degraded pastures. This is weakening the viability of herder livelihoods and having detrimental effects on rangeland resources, particularly local species.
What do we mean by ‘Sustainable Cashmere’?
The idea of sustainable cashmere, in our opinion, should include considerations for its effects on the environment, society, and the economy. Additionally, we think that sustainability requires the well-being of animals. This viewpoint states that sustainable cashmere manufacturing would:
- Not interfere with the preservation of natural resources, including wildlife.
- Offer local herders a stable means of subsistence, and
- Preserve the long-term viability of the global cashmere business.
How can standards help?
A viable and workable solution to many of the environmental issues we currently confront is provided by reliable certification standards. They offer a way to promote sustainable behaviour change and support the transformation of the commodity industries. Requirements that prove conformity with these practices are established by reliable standards that help to produce more sustainable production methods.
Standards can have a significant positive impact on the private sector while also helping to advance the Sustainable Development Goals by highlighting a company’s dedication to sustainability and assisting customers in choosing items that have been made ethically.
Do Goats Moult?
During late spring goats begin to shed their coats as the thick quilt begins to become uncomfortably warm. They do this from time to time by repeatedly rubbing themselves against rough surfaces like stones, walls, shrubs, and soil naturally losing some of this fine wool. The removal of hair that would naturally fall out is aided by combing.
How do herders’ sense when and how to Harvest Cashmere?
The process of combing cannot begin until the right time has come. Herders must wait for the moulting to commence naturally before they begin combing. Herders start combing as they watch the goat struggle through a normal moult and remove hair that would otherwise fall out on its own.
Herders can determine a goat’s readiness for hair harvesting by looking at its hair. If the fibre hasn’t been allowed to loosen, it won’t come off readily with the comb, making combing unpleasant for the goat and challenging and ineffective for the herder.
Mongolian vs. Chinese Cashmere: What’s the Difference?
The two main cashmere-producing countries have very different methods for manufacturing cashmere. Herded cashmere is the most common description of Mongolian cashmere. Semi-nomadic Mongolian herders graze their herds on public, unfenced rangelands that are held by the community while moving between seasonal campsites. On the other hand, cashmere is typically produced more intensively on the other side of the border.
The goats of Chinese herders are increasingly pastured on enclosed, privately owned pastures—better known as “cashmere farms”—rather than roaming the countryside. Goats are frequently brought indoors and fed hay during the winter months on these farms because the grazing pasture is not always enough to last the entire year. China uses electrical shears more frequently than Mongolia, where cashmere is generally plucked by hand using combs.
How is Cashmere Harvested?
The process of combing or shearing the goats’ hair is known as fibre harvesting. Goats in Mongolia are manually combed to remove the thin “winter undercoat” and keep the outside “guard hair” that helps shield them from the elements. To lessen snagging and facilitate simpler fibre removal, goats with exceptionally long outer coats may occasionally be clipped with scissors before combing.
Farmers in the Inner Mongolian region of China frequently employ electronic shears to cut off the outer guard hair and the cashmere. Sheltering goats for warmth makes this approach appropriate.
When is the Cashmere Season?
The Cashmere goats start to moult as a result of the warmer weather in the spring, which is when the cashmere season begins. The cashmere harvesting season in Mongolia begins in the east and progresses to the west. Often, herders in the East can sell their fibre at a higher price because they are first to the market. In China, when the temperature gets warmer in the spring, goats are typically sheared.
Does Combing or Shearing Injure the Goats?
In the right circumstances, combing and shearing do not cause goats injury. Goats can undergo both methods without experiencing pain or distress if the right care and techniques are taken. We are certain that herders can ensure good welfare standards for their cashmere goats by adhering to the procedures stated in the SFA Animal Husbandry and Fibre Harvesting Code of Practice.