Did you know … where Cashmere is Born?
In an earlier article in this magazine, Allude founder and creative director Andrea Karg spoke about her passion for cashmere. A magical material, no doubt. But where does this luxurious commodity actually come from, where does our cashmere couture have its fascinating origin?
Our journey to the birthplace of cashmere begins in a valley at the foot of the Himalayas. Here, in the province of Kashmir, a region divided between three countries – India, China and Pakistan –merchants travelling on the historic Silk Road would meet at the important trading hub Srinagar. Nowhere else did the culture and commerce of the Middle East come into closer contact with those of Central and South Asia than in the rugged Kashmir valley, known for its short dry summers and bitterly cold winters. The extreme temperatures, which can go up to 35 degrees Celsius (95° Fahrenheit) in summer and reach a chilling minus 35 degrees Celsius (-31° Fahrenheit) in winter, are as much a challenge for the local population as for the region’s flora and fauna.
The hardy cashmere goat defies the harsh climate, and neither frost nor rocks or altitudes up to 5000 metres can spoil its mood. The nimble animals are frugal eaters and well adapted to their surroundings in other aspects as well, sporting a coarse outer coat and dense undercoat to withstand wind and snow. Apart from the Kashmir valley cashmere goats have also found a home in Mongolia, Iran, Nepal and the Central Asian highlands. However, the majority, an estimated population of 130 million animals, lives in mountainous China.
For centuries cashmere blankets and garments have been a vital part of clothing for the nomadic tribes in the Himalayas. Archaeological findings and ancient scrolls suggest that cashmere has been around since at least the 3rd century BC. By the 15th century finest cashmere garments had become bestsellers on the trading routes. Scarves called “pashminas” after the Persian word for wool were equally popular on markets within the Roman Empire and all over Asia.
During the period of colonisation, huge quantities of Cashmere were exported via India to the UK and France. Such delicate items of clothing could just not be produced with European sheep wool; and the ladies belonging to the high society of the late 18th century were very fond of the soft and warming accessories. Pashminas came in very handy, given that short-sleeved dresses had just become en vogue – one of the fashion statements of neo-classicism. In the early 1800s Empress Josephine could still write about her hundreds of pashminas. Fortunately, we have learned since then to make much more elaborate pieces out of this unique kind of wool than simple scarves – from the twin sets of the 1950s and the knitwear boom of the seventies to today’s genuine cashmere couture at Allude.
But back to those brave goats in the Himalayas and elsewhere. The process of harvesting the coveted material has not changed for centuries. In spring, during the moulting season from April to June, nomads comb out the dense and highly valuable undercoat from beneath the fur with a wide-toothed comb and sort it by hand. Shearing is not recommended for both the animals’ and the wool’s sake, as the goats’ coarse outer coat is not actually used. The fur colour of cashmere goats varies between white, gray, brown and black. The yield is quite low for the effort required. About 100 to 150 grams can be combed out per animal per year, with he-goats providing more wool than their female counterparts. A small amount considering that a single sweater requires the down of three to six goats. Multiply that for a cardigan or whole dress. No wonder that pure cashmere is so precious.
The shepherds then bring their yield to regional collection centres, from where it is sent off to various wool mills abroad. The separation of down and guard hair, the so-called awns, is still a challenging, labour-intensive procedure, despite the use of machinery. Only a few experienced specialists are able to achieve perfect results.
The final step on cashmere’s journey are the spinning mills, which again depend on suitable technology and know-how in order to produce the finest possible yarn. Each mill has its own secret methods for optimal processing. Clever inventions and decades of experience result in yarns of amazing softness and tear resistance.
At the end of our brief expedition into the world of cashmere you can surely appreciate the craftsmanship, artistry and passion that many people from near and far put into this luxury good. A true miracle of nature. To make sure that you can enjoy these treasures – from a cashmere dress to pillow cases of unbelievable softness – with all your senses, we at Allude watch over every tiny step of this process. From combing to spinning to knitting and almost all the way into your wardrobe. That much we owe to you as a customer and to the rich, mystical history of this unique material!