The cashmere harvesting process is a time consuming and delicate one. The Cashmere goat has two layers of hair – the outer “guard layer” which is straight, coarse and thick, and the soft curly layer that grows closest to the body. It is this soft inner hair that is used to produce cashmere garments and traditionally these are brushed from the neck using a large comb.
The process is comparable to forcing a screaming toddler to have their matted and tangled hair brushed for an entire day. In many countries including Australia and New Zealand the goats are sheared and the hairs sorted once cut. This process is faster but more likely to damage the long fine strands.
The hairs are sorted by length and width. The coarse and short hairs are discarded as these break and pill more easily when woven. Hairs are next separated by colour then washed, dried and spun before being dyed. Lighter garments are softer than dark, as more dye is needed to achieve colours such as black, brown or navy. White cashmere hair is most sought after, as it is easiest to dye and a white cashmere jumper will always feel softer than a heavily dyed black jumper.
Cashmere is also woven with other natural fibres to create interesting textures and styles such as silk blends, which give more sheen and drape. Blends such as these also add more structure and form to a garment as a pure cashmere suit would be somewhat floppy in comparison.