Cashmere: Where It Comes From, Brands That Do It Best, and How to Keep It Looking Great
Good cashmere is hard to come by. Not because it’s rare—these days, it seems as if every store offers a version of the same basic cashmere crewneck—but because the quality can vary so much from piece to piece.
Some of the highest-quality cashmere comes from goats that live in the snowy plains of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia. When it gets bitterly cold there during the winter months, the goats grow an ultrafine, downy fleece underneath their outer coat for insulation. Later, when the temperatures rise and they start to shed, this underfleece is carefully combed out—not sheared off!—by herders and then processed, dyed, spun, and knit into the pieces you see in stores.
For Brunello Cucinelli, founder of the eponymous cashmere brand, there’s nothing like it. “Cashmere is light and warm at the same time, it can be layered with ease, and the durability of it makes it a great sustainable option,” he says. “I like to say that cashmere is forever. I personally don’t like disposing of my cashmere sweaters…my daughters and grandchildren have some of my personal cashmere pieces, and this to me embodies the true beauty of this material.”
Back to cashmere’s popularity (and that ubiquitous crewneck): Designer Maria McManus explains that ubiquity comes at a cost. “This increased demand has led to cashmere goats overgrazing pastures in China and Mongolia, creating deserts out of former natural grasslands,” she says. “We believe using recycled cashmere, in tandem with supporting regenerative farming practices, like controlling animal grazing and increasing biodiversity, will allow the deserts we have created in Asia to renew and become pastures again.” Whether you decide to buy recycled or new is up to you. Either way, her advice is clear: “Buying less, but greater-quality items is what makes a good fashion investment,” McManus says.
How do we measure quality? “I look at where the item is manufactured,” says Cucinelli. “I also care about the way a company treats the people who make it. We live in the information age, and anyone can learn about the practices behind all our products.”
Below, five quality cashmere brands, plus tips on caring for and maintaining your cashmere knits.
Brunello Cucinelli, known as the king of cashmere, makes the best neutral knits in the game—but that wasn’t always the plan. “When we first started the company, I was inspired by the great story of Benetton,” says Cucinelli. “At the time, they had been so innovative with their colored wool sweaters and memorable advertising campaigns. In part, this is why I chose to create our first collection in bright orange and red hues.” (No one did colorful cashmere back then.) “As we evolved our brand, adding more items to create a total look for men and women, we moved away from brighter tones and found our aesthetic was best captured in an array of natural and earth tones,” he says. “This brought our brown, beige, and grey items to become real signatures of our brand.”
One of the first things I did when starting our company was visit Mongolia. I wanted to understand the origin of cashmere and to make sure that the people and goats (whose fur provides the raw material) were all living in fair conditions and working in a balanced environment between nature and production. I never wanted to cause harm while building my company, and that needed to be a point of focus from the source to the sweaters. Mongolia is a special place, a land where farmers live in perfect synergy with their surroundings and are able to treat nature with so much respect. —Cucinelli
Photos courtesy of Brunello Cucinelli. All items available at Brunello Cucinelli boutique, SoHo.
When Gwyneth first conceived of an in-house fashion line, the idea was to create designer-quality closet staples at direct-to-consumer prices. Knitwear is consistently a bestselling category for G. Label—which, according to goop’s SVP of supply chain and production, Mari Popovics, probably has a lot to do with feel. “goop cashmere is unbelievably soft because it’s combed,” she says. “The goats we use are combed twice a year coinciding with the weather, so we’re not leaving them cold or hot in the wrong season.” And then there are the silhouettes (timeless), the colors (versatile), and those three little words everyone loves to hear: made in Italy.
Always mindful of her line’s environmental impact, Maria McManus uses a special blend of recycled cashmere and GOTS-certified cotton that’s free of the harmful chemicals common in textile processing. It’s a win-win. “The cotton makes the cashmere stronger and more transitional, easier to wear in both spring/summer and fall/winter…” says the designer. “The hand is very similar to conventional cashmere but maybe not quite as fluffy. It has a slightly sportier look, which I personally love.”
In order to create a more sustainable sourcing strategy around cashmere production, we need to embrace recycling, regenerating the vast amounts of cashmere we have already created over the past 20 years. —McManus
Loro Piana’s new Cocooning Collection—an aptly named line of cozy slip dresses, flowy cardigans, matching sets, and thigh-high socks, done in a calming palette of cream, taupe, and peachy-blush—makes a slow morning or a Saturday night in even more indulgent. And if you need to step out? A fuzzy bag and boots from the innovative CashFur line, which uses cashmere and silk to mimic the look and feel of shearling.
A wardrobe made entirely of cashmere: That’s the concept behind Lisa Yang’s eponymous line. It encompasses everything from the basics (sweaters and scarves) to more-surprising pieces, like structured shorts and knitted bags. Yang grew up in China (“not far from where these cashmere fibers originate,” she points out) and has spent most of her adult life in Sweden. This dual heritage is evident in her designs: “There are influences of Scandinavian minimalism, but I really enjoy introducing patterns and rich textures that take me back to the heritage craft of Chinese communities,” she says.
Caring for Cashmere
Use a sweater comb to gently remove any pilling—doing this regularly will keep your knits looking nicer for longer. What about cleaning it? “No need to wash after every wear,” McManus says. “Hand-wash with a gentle detergent and cold water. Don’t wring it dry; instead, gently press the water out, then lay it flat on a towel.” She also recommends dry-cleaning once a year to help prevent moth holes. To further minimize the chance of moths, the Loro Piana team suggests storing your clean, folded cashmere items with cedar blocks.
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