Today I want to talk about wool, and not just average wool. I want to talk about cashmere, a fabric that is considered very luxurious. Because, how sustainable is cashmere actually?
What is cashmere?
Cashmere is an extremely soft kind of wool that comes from goats, most often from Asia. Wool is the warm coat sheep and goats need during winter, but in summertime, they loose this think layer of hairs again. Cashmere are the very fine hairs from the wool skin and is therefore the softest. Even though the hairs are so fine and silky, cashmere is still very warm. Because of all the advantages of cashmere, it’s a very popular material. However, it is also a material that is very scarce.
Why is cashmere is a problem?
Well, fast fashion didn’t do much great things for the fashion industry. Neither for the cashmere industry. Because we all want luxurious clothing for a fraction of the price and because so many retailers want to sell this, cashmere production has become another polluting, degrading and unethical industry. I will discuss three victims in this article: the goats, nature, and the already endangered wildlife.
First of all, the cashmere goats are often victim of bad treatment, which came out after a investigation by PETA, who found the following results in 2016:
“Goats have little fat on their bodies, and their coats protect them from the bitter climates in these countries. But in the cashmere industry, they’re shorn in midwinter. At a time when they need their coats the most, and as a result, the vulnerable animals can die of cold stress.
The same goes for Angora goats, who are used for mohair, and Pashmina goats, who are used for Pashmina wool. One report warns that cold weather or storms “cause excessive losses in Angora flocks … at shearing time.” – Published November 23, 2016 by PETA.
Besides that cashmere goats can freeze to death when shorn in winter, they are also most often victim to bad shearing techniques. As everything has to go as fast and as cheap as possible we forget to treat goats as living creatures instead of just things for their wool. They’re shorn so roughly, which often leads to bleeding and even cut off genitals.
Alongside the bad treatment of the animals, also our Mother Nature is a victim of excessive goat breeding. Because of the huge demand of cashmere a few goats per farmer is not realistic anymore. Farmers need big flocks of goats to supply all that demand. Nature cannot handle so much goats on a single grassland, which then causes desertification, loss or grass and biodiversity.
Last but not least, the excessive breeding of goats leads to a pressure on already endangered wildlife. As they are pushed away from the land or being killed after a conflict with humans.
Forbes wrote a great article on this topic too, which you can find here.
So, as you can see, the nowadays situation of cashmere production is most often a problematic one. If we keep allowing these situations and if we keep buying cheap cashmere from unethical brands, this situation is only getting worse. We have to focus on more sustainable cashmere instead.
What is the solution?
Well, first of all, we have to ask for transparency from all brands. Back in the days, cashmere was directly sold from producer to consumer. However, nowadays a long production chain has taken over the market. Where brands can’t, or don’t want to, ensure how and where they produce. By demanding more transparency, we can fight the bad treatment of animals, garment workers and our Mother Nature.
Secondly, we have to buy less new products and more from an existing market. There is so much beautiful second hand cashmere that can have a second life. Check out your local vintage stores, second hand stores or have a look on online platforms such as Vestiaire Collective and Imparfaite Paris.
Thirdly, we have to be more aware of the quality of cashmere. Normally, a good cashmere garment, will last you a lifetime and is therefore also quite sustainable. However, if we buy cheap products, the quality is already lower, and besides that, we often don’t feel the need of treating the garment with absolute care.
How to take care of cashmere
Wool is a material that does not have to be washed or cleaned very often. Wool can clean itself, but if you want to speed up this proces, you can hang your items in the bathroom whilst showering as a steaming effect, or you can hang your items in the sun, so the sun will do its disinfection job.
But when your items are really dirty, you can wash them by hand in hand warm water. Make sure to rinse them off under cold water, to close the wool hairs afterwards. Lay your sweater or item to dry flat, so it won’t change its fit. Soaked sweaters take their time to dry, but you shouldn’t give them too much time, as this could cause shrinking or stinking. So make sure to hang your soaked items in a sunny place or in a room with a heater.
These are wonderful and super easy methods to get your favourite sweater fresh again. We have to take care for our clothes and all products, as this will extend its lifetime. And wearing what you have is the most sustainable thing you can do.
Finally, I would like to finish with saying: if you do need a new cashmere garment, please make sure to buy one from an ethical fashion brand that is transparent on its production proces. It’s hard to find good quality cashmere. But if you want something good, you can be sure to find it at fair and sustainable fashion brands. Because of they will share their production in true transparency.
Sustainable cashmere options
Check for more sustainable brands the Ethical Brands Directory