Best Ethical Cashmere Brands
Cashmere is a prized fibre and rightly so, but why should you steer clear of the cheap options? We take a look at the process behind creating a cashmere jumper and the best ethical cashmere brands to buy from.
Cashmere is probably one of the most luxurious natural fibres out there. It’s an extraordinarily soft material that has the perks of being incredibly long-lasting, if well taken care of. It’s not unusual for cashmere jumpers and scarves to be passed down from generation to generation. It even gets softer with time! Cashmere is a great investment for the cold seasons. A thin cashmere sweater layer can be 3 times warmer than wool!
How is cashmere produced?
First of all, it doesn’t come from sheep, but from goats. Goats normally have short hair, but there’s one nomadic breed, found between Mongolia, Southwest China, Iran, Tibet, Northern India and Afghanistan, that has fine, long hair. These goats have very little fat to protect them in the winter from the cold arid plains, so they develop soft, fleecy fibres underneath their coat, on the underbelly. These hairs are what make cashmere. When the warmer season starts, goats naturally shed their coats. That’s when producers comb out the fine hair, sort it by hand, send it to facilities to be cleaned, refined, baled and shipped to Europe. They’re then sold to fashion brands to make beautiful cashmere clothes.
The use of this precious material originally started around the 13th century, in the Kashmir region, where it takes its name. Having previously been a local practice and traditional wool, in the 18th century, Europeans discovered the fabric and started importing it to Europe. It rapidly became one of the most popular and in-demand materials. Fast forward to a few years ago and cheap cashmere was flooding the market. Increased demand for the fibre has led to environmental and social problems for cashmere goat herders.
Is cashmere sustainable?
The fabric is rarer than we might think. It takes four goats to produce enough hair to make one cashmere sweater. Add to this the fact that the hair is only available to be combed out for short periods each year. With so much demand on the market, you can find cashmere at some surprisingly cheap price points. It’s great to see such a luxurious garment accessible, but at what environmental cost?
Primarily the cashmere goats are paying the price for our cheap cashmere sweaters. With little fat to protect them from the colder weather, shearing them too early mid-winter to meet demand means they can freeze to death. The goats hooves are very hard and increased herd sizes have lead to desertification of the land they once grazed on. An increase in cashmere production factories has lead to water rationing in Inner Mongolia too. The slow way of life once enjoyed by herders and their communities is a distant memory as they struggle to meet demand amid every decreasing prices paid for their fibres.
Climate change has a particularly tragic effect in the Mongolian area: a dzud is a Mongolian term for when the animals of the Steppe die in vast numbers following dry, hot summers and icy winters. Without pasture to eat during the summer (caused by desertification), animals don’t put on the protective fat needed to last the raw winters of Inner Mongolia. As only a small number of animals survive, Mongolian herders have been increasing the size of their herds to increase the likelihood of reaching their quotas. This over grazing in turn degrades the land even further.
So buying sustainable, responsibly sourced cashmere is more important than ever. Luckily you have a few options when buying your ethical cashmere. Firstly, buying from herders that are certified sustainable and organic is a great way to support fair prices and a slower way of life. A second idea would be buying recycled cashmere. We have listed our favourite cashmere brands, for guilt-free winter shopping.
Best Ethical Cashmere Brands
London based Oyuna cashmere is the gold standard in luxurious cashmere for your wardrobe and your home. Founded by Oyuna Tserendorj, the brand mixes her love for contemporary style, with a deep connection to her country of origin. The brand works with the SFA (Sustainable Fibre Alliance). This means that all of their fabrics are sustainably sourced from the herd to your cashmere jumper. The SFA was created to bring together the once alienated parts of the supply chain to ensure that herders and the animals are supported. The designs themselves are tres chic and minimal, just like Oyuna herself.
At C&C, they only use sources who are committed to providing sustainable, traceable fibre of the highest quality. Their yarn comes from cashmere goats and is sourced from Inner Mongolia. However they ensure the environment is protected by making sure the goat herd has 11 to 15 acres of land each for grazing. This ratio varies depending on the environmental conditions each season, and the goats are also fed a supplement and corn for extra nutrition. In order to protect them from the cold season, goats are brought into the farm buildings at night to keep them safe, but during the day they are allowed to roam free. They also use sustainable dyes to achieve gorgeous vibrant colours.
The White Company is the first British brand to be part of The Good Cashmere Standard® which aims to improve the lives of goats and farmers, and the environment they live in. Developed by the Aid by Trade Foundation (AbTF), The Good Cashmere Standard® is an independent standard for sustainability certified cashmere. It provides full traceability and transparency in the textile chain from the farms of Inner Mongolia via an online tracking system. The criteria also goes beyond animal welfare: workers must be trained and competent in rearing the goats. They must also protect the land and co-exist with wildlife, so as not to negatively impact biodiversity on and around the areas they manage. Herders are also encouraged to cause less pollution and help to reduce overgrazing which can lead to deforestation and desertification.
Mandkhai is a sustainable cashmere brand creatively based in London, but sourced and produced in Mongolia (not to be confused with Inner Mongolia, which is a region in China). Their farmers make sure goats and sheep roam together in harmony together to survive the harsh winter climate. In each flock, there is a sheep to goat ratio. All their dyes are natural, certified by GOTS (Global Organic Textile Standard), Oeko-Tex Standard 100 – LANSOL®, and EU-Ecolabel. The knitting process itself produces little to no waste, but the waste that comes from pure cashmere is also biodegradable and will therefore doesn’t go to landfill. All their factories are women-led, their workers are also women. Regardless of previous experience they are trained in the craft at the factory. They can also work from home, giving them flexibility and extra income for their families.
Whistles has introduced its new sustainable cashmere pieces made from Re.Verso™yarn, a regenerated Italian cashmere yarn created from post-factory waste. Using a completely integrated production process, Re.Verso™ yarn is entirely traceable and certified by the Global Recycling Standard (GRS). So what does this mean? You’ll get the same quality of a traditionally produced cashmere, but with a completely different environmental impact. Re-Verso™ is a new production process that bridges science and technology to create a Circular Economy manufacturing system for high-quality wool and cashmere.
The high street retailer is upping it’s cashmere game this season with the introduction of two new sourcing methods. The first being a partnership with the Aid by Trade Foundation to create pieces using their new Good Cashmere Standard. The certification concentrates on traceability of cashmere to responsibly managed herds in Inner Mongolia, China. The second is an edit of pieces made using recycled cashmere. Using offcuts from it’s own production process that are respun to create luxurious cashmere knits, COS are attempting to close production loop methods. Their longterm aim being to maximise circularity and minimse waste.
Disclaimer: The people and models in the images featured are not associated with The Vendeur and do not endorse it or the products shown. This post may contain affiliate links. Prices correct at time of publishing
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