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The Wonders of Cashmere

The Wonders of Cashmere

We are often asked what makes cashmere so special, and why it is so expensive. I’d like to take a stab at this.

Cashmere is one of the rarest and most luxurious fibers in the world. It comes from noble, rugged goats generations of which have survived in the Himalayas for thousands of years and have adapted to the incredibly harsh winters, where the temperature can drop to 4o degrees below zero. The soft, downy hair that they produce is combed by hand (no harm to the goat) once a year, in the springtime, after the winter has ended.

The best and finest cashmere comes from Inner Mongolia, a mountainous region in northern China just south of the country of Mongolia. (It is a myth that cashmere is harvested in Italy or Scotland. There are virtually no cashmere goats in those countries, so the factories there buy the raw fiber from Inner Mongolia, just as we do. The only difference is where it’s processed.) Inner Mongolia is also where we make most of our products, as the artisans in that region are the best in the world at processing superfine cashmere.

In my opinion, nothing compares with cashmere. I say that as a big fan of wool—I spent many years working in a woolen mill, and later selling wool fabrics, so I appreciate the properties of that great fiber. And we have some beautiful lambswool blankets in our collection. But there are some major differences between wool (which comes from sheep) and cashmere. First of all, because of its incredible insulating qualities, cashmere is 8 times warmer than wool. (The secret is the insulating loftiness that is unique to cashmere, which provides warmth without bulk.) Also, cashmere isn’t itchy and therefore can be worn 12 months a year. In fact, it is very comfortable in the summer due to its lightness and breathability. And it is much, much softer.

Here are a few features that make cashmere special:

It is warm and insulating even when wet. (Cotton, by contrast, doesn’t provide much warmth, and actually drains your body heat when wet.)

It is quite rare, and can’t be harvested quickly. It takes a goat 4 years to shed enough fiber to make one sweater, which is part of the reason it’s so expensive.

It is naturally anti-microbial.

It is naturally biodegradable. Cashmere disappears after 6 months, whereas most synthetics (which are petroleum based) take years to break down.

It is incredibly soft, and can be worn in any climate. It is warm when needed, but also cool in the summer.

The Wonders of Alpine's Cashmere

So given all that, why not just buy the cheapest cashmere products? Well, you could, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Just know that your investment is not likely to hold up. The reason is that there is a huge difference between well-made cashmere products and cheaply made ones. Here’s what makes our products different from most.

It starts with the fiber: We strictly use the world’s finest A grade cashmere, which has a diameter of 14.5-15.5 microns. (As a comparison, a single human hair is about 75 microns thick—so five times thicker than cashmere.) It is far more expensive, but it is also far softer.

The A grade fiber is also much longer than the cheaper grades, which makes it much more resistant to pilling. The extra length also means that the garment will retain its shape for longer, and won’t stretch.

Using the finest fiber also allows us to make much lighter products—for example, our featherweight scarves weigh just 2 ounces.

In addition to using the best fiber, the construction of the garment is also critical. Here there is a huge amount of variability, mostly for the worse. It is frankly disappointing that the majority of manufacturers choose to cut corners and under-construct their products, or use cheap one-ply yarns, just to save money. It is a real disservice to the customer, because while their products may be pretty, they will never feel as soft and usually won’t last more than a season. Our thinking is very different: we made a decision from the outset that we would make all of our products better than they need to be. They may cost a little more, but the results are well worth the investment.

So yes, when it comes to cashmere, you do get what you pay for. With that said, rest assured that you are also getting a very good value. We source all of our products directly, so there are no middlemen involved. And if you take care of it, your Alpine Cashmere product will last a lifetime.

Ames Stevens