Cashmere wool, usually simply known as cashmere, is a fiber obtained from cashmere goats and other types of goat.
Common usage defines the fiber as wool but is finer and softer, giving its characteristics as compared to sheep’s wool. Some say it is hair, but as seen below, cashmere requires the removal of hair from the wool. The word cashmere is an old spelling of the Kashmir region in northern India and Pakistan. Cashmere is fine in texture, strong, light, and soft. Garments made from it provide excellent insulation, approximately three times that of sheep wool. Cashmere is also softer than regular wool.
In the United States, under the U.S. Wool Products Labeling Act of 1939, as amended, (15 U. S. Code Section 68b(a)(6)), states that a wool or textile product may be labelled as containing cashmere only if:
such wool product is the fine (dehaired) undercoat fibers produced by a cashmere goat (Capra hircus laniger);
the average diameter of the fiber of such wool product does not exceed 19 microns; and
such wool product does not contain more than 3 percent (by weight) of cashmere fibers with average diameters that exceed 30 microns.
The average fiber diameter may be subject to a coefficient of variation around the mean that shall not exceed 24 percent. Sources
Pashmina goats, Ladakh
Cashmere wool fiber for clothing and other textile articles is obtained from the neck region of Cashmere and other goats. Historically, fine-haired Cashmere goats have been called Capra hircus laniger, as if they were a subspecies of the domestic goat Capra hircus. However, they are now more commonly considered part of the domestic goat subspecies Capra aegagrus hircus. Cashmere goats produce a double fleece that consists of a fine, soft undercoat or underdown of hair mingled with a straighter and much coarser outer coating of hair called guard hair. For the fine underdown to be sold and processed further, it must be de-haired. De-hairing is a mechanical process that separates the coarse hairs from the fine hair. After de-hairing, the resulting “cashmere” is ready to be dyed and converted into textile yarn, fabrics and garments.
Cashmere is collected during the spring moulting season when the goats naturally shed their winter coat. In the Northern Hemisphere, the goats moult as early as March and as late as May.
In some regions, the mixed mass of down and coarse hair is removed by hand with a coarse comb that pulls tufts of fiber from the animal as the comb is raked through the fleece. The collected fiber then has a higher yield of pure cashmere after the fiber has been washed and dehaired. The long, coarse guard hair is then typically clipped from the animal and is often used for brushes, interfacings and other non-apparel uses. Animals in Iran, Afghanistan, New Zealand, and Australia are typically shorn of their fleece, resulting in a higher coarse hair content and lower pure cashmere yield. In America, the most popular method is combing. The process takes up to two weeks, but with a trained eye for when the fiber is releasing, it is possible to comb the fibers out in about a week.
An 1867 William Simpson painting depicting men manufacturing shawls using pashm wool
China has become the largest producer of raw cashmere and their clip is estimated at 10,000 metric tons per year (in hair). Mongolia follows with 7,400 tons (in hair) as of 2014, while Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan and other Central Asian Republics produce lesser amounts. The annual world clip is estimated to be between 15,000 and 20,000 tons (13,605 and 18,140 tonnes) (in hair). “Pure cashmere”, resulting from removing animal grease, dirt and coarse hairs from the fleece, is estimated at about 6,500 tons (5,895 tonnes). Ultra-fine Cashmere or Pashmina is still produced by communities in Indian Kashmir but its rarity and high-price, along with political instability in the region, make it very hard to source and to regulate quality. It is estimated that on average yearly production per goat is 150 grams (0.33 lb).
Pure cashmere can be dyed and spun into yarns and knitted into jumpers (sweaters), hats, gloves, socks and other clothing, or woven into fabrics then cut and assembled into garments such as outer coats, jackets, trousers (pants), pajamas, scarves, blankets, and other items. Fabric and garment producers in Scotland, Italy, and Japan have long been known as market leaders. In the United States, the town of Uxbridge, Massachusetts was an incubator for the cashmere wool industry. It had the first power looms for woolens and the first manufacture of “satinets”. Capron Mill had the first power looms, in 1820. It burned on July 21, 2007, in the Bernat Mill fire.