Cashmere is a natural fibre which comes from cashmere goats that mainly live in Central and East Asia. During winter, cashmere goats grow super-insulating coats that keep them warm in very chilly climates and when spring comes around, they naturally shed them to make way for the lovely warm summer days ahead. These coats are where cashmere fibres come from however, few realise that the superfine, curly cashmere we all know and love only makeup 30% of the coat, growing primarily on the underbelly. The rest is made up of much longer and thicker cashmere guard hairs which cover the goat from top to bottom and protects them from the elements come rain or shine.
Did you know that annually, it takes four goats to grow enough curly cashmere for just one ladies cashmere jumper? And did you also know that the finer, longer and lighter the cashmere fibres are the higher their value? Surprisingly, achieving this covetable formula isn’t very easy.
China, Mongolia and Afghanistan are the three largest producers of cashmere in the world. While China’s cashmere industry is by far the most developed, cashmere goats have long been herded by nomadic communities in all three countries. Due to the growth in demand for cashmere in the 90s, increases in cashmere herd sizes have raised several sustainability problems for the industries in China and Mongolia including environmental degradation and desertification.
Ava Innes sources cashmere guard hair from Afghanistan where the cashmere industry is much smaller than China and Mongolia. It wasn’t until the early 2000s, with the presence of the USA and multiple development programs, that the value of cashmere became widely understood. Before then goats were kept for their dairy and meat, and the hairs that shed from their coats during spring were often collected up and burnt to protect herders and their families from the cold. Now cashmere plays a vital part in the livelihoods of thousands of people in Afghanistan and the stewardship of their goats reflects as such, with good levels of animal welfare and care.
Depending on the country, cashmere is collected in several different ways. The preferred method involves slowly combing the goat to gently remove loose fibres and is popular in China and Mongolia. This method promotes consistency but requires the goat to sit still for an extended amount of time while it’s combed. The other method is clipping, which takes far less time but can affect the overall fibre quality as well as presenting a larger mix of guard and curly cashmere, which then undergoes hand separation. Clipping is currently the most common method in Afghanistan however, combing is rising in popularity. In Afghanistan, hand separating (or dehairing ) is typically viewed as women's work and involves the separation of curly cashmere and cashmere guard hair, which is then gathered up and sold separately at very different prices.
Cashmere guard hair is seen as a natural by-product of the cashmere industry. The fibre is straight which makes it less suitable for knitting and weaving. At Ava Innes, we recognise the value of its luxurious warmth, breathability and naturally weighted comfort, making it ideal for bedding. Our ethos values a more sustainable textile industry, believing that all natural resources should be appreciated in their entirety. At Ava Innes we blend cashmere guard hair with a touch of wool, to create dreamy, naturally weighted duvets that are sustainable whilst providing better sleep. Wool is recognised for its temperature regulating, moisture-wicking and hypoallergenic properties, making it a perfect partner along with cashmere guard hair to make sustainable bedding that lasts.
At Ava Innes we want to give back and commit to giving 10% of our profits to Afghanaid, to support essential life skills training for women in the region.