What Is Cashmere Wool, and Is It Sustainable and Ethical?

Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – 4cruzetam

Cashmere wool is in great demand all over the world. But what exactly is cashmere – and how can some manufacturers afford to sell this luxury fabric for such low prices?

What is Cashmere Wool?

Clothing made from cashmere is especially soft and warm. The luxury wool is becoming more and more popular worldwide – and cheaper, so that you can now buy cashmere sweaters for fast fashion prices.

Genuine cashmere wool is so expensive because it can be obtained only from the undercoats of cashmere goats. These goats can’t be bred everywhere, as mountainous regions are their sole habitat. The majority of cashmere goats are raised in India, China, Mongolia, and Iran. Throughout fall and winter, the goats grow out their valuable fleeces so they can survive the cold temperatures. They are then ready to be sheared in the spring.

Cashmere wool is so sought-after on the international market because cashmere sweaters are still widely considered a status symbol. It’s not uncommon to pay $900 or more for a high-grade cashmere sweater. But the cheaper versions, often available for under $100, are usually not made of pure cashmere wool. Often, the luxurious fabric will be blended with cheaper materials to keep costs down.

Cashmere Wool comes from Cashmere Goats
Cashmere Goat (Photo: CC0 Public Commons / Pixabay - Marcel Langthim)

Is Cashmere Unethical?

The animal rights organization PETA has done extensive research to find out why some cashmere products are available for such low prices, revealing the cost-cutting farming practices which are designed to keep cashmere prices as low as possible.

Cashmere goats are bred solely for their wool. According to PETA, young animals with commercially undesirable colorations are slaughtered simply because they are not worth raising. Many of the countries which produce cashmere wool don’t have proper animal protection regulations: In China, for instance, it’s legal to allow the goats to bleed to death without anesthetic.

Also, the goats need their warm coats to survive their habitat’s cold winter, where temperatures can fall as low as minus 22°F (-30°C). But the goats are often sheared too early so that the precious wool can be sold as soon as possible. If there is a cold snap after shearing, cashmere goats can freeze to death in a matter of hours – an agonizing way to die.

Most of the workers aren’t exactly gentle with the goats, either. They have to work under enormous pressure and stress, and so the animals are often held down by force or end up sustaining serious wounds, as you can see in this video made as part of a PETA investigation.

What to Look for When You’re Buying Cashmere Clothes

It’s not just the goats themselves who are suffering as a result of the cashmere wool boom. The animals can eat up to ten percent of their own weight in grasses and herbs every day, and in doing so uproot the plants completely – which stops the plants from growing back. Mongolia is particularly hard-hit by the severe degradation of its traditional grasslands.

Cashmere wool puts Mongolian grasslands under threat from over-farming.
The Mongolian grasslands are under threat from over-farming. (Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Pixabay – Jacqueline Macou)

If you want to protect both animals and the environment, you should definitely be avoiding cheap cashmere wool. If it simply has to be cashmere – in fact, whenever you buy clothes – make sure you look out for evidence of sustainable and ethical production chains, such as the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS), Fair Trade seals, or the B Corp logo.

Of course, one alternative which can be produced locally is sheep’s wool, although you’ll want to make certain the animals are treated ethically here, too. Another luxurious but unethical fabric to avoid is mohair.

This article was translated from German to English by Will Tayler. You can read the original here: Kaschmirwolle: Besonderheiten und Kritik an der Edelfaser

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