During the moulting season in spring (from April to June), the herders either clip or comb out the hair of the cashmere goats.
In the mills, the raw cashmere hair is washed and visually sorted for quality grading and colour.
It is then ‘dehaired’, which is the task of separating the coarse hair from the fine undercoat.
The output of this process is the ‘pure cashmere’ separated into grades based on the length and thickness of the fibre, measured in microns.
The available grades are A, B and C:
• Grade A cashmere is the selection with higher quality, being its main feature their 14 -16.5 microns thickness, and 42 mm long on average.
The fibre is harvested exclusively by combing the hairs, a technique that herders have been perfecting for centuries.
Combing the wool preserves the animal’s wellbeing while enabling a better yield of longer fibres. As a result, it’s pricier than grades B and C.
• Grade B cashmere is cheaper but still considered cashmere. Fibres are up to 19 microns thick, and around 34 mm long.
Shearing cashmere goats is the standard practice where labour is dearer than in developing countries.
However, it is not the ideal method since a significant amount of the goats’ coarse outer coat (which is harvested along with the best-valued hairs) end up being discarded.
The resulting cashmere fleece is inferior to the grade A’s and requires further fibre sorting as well as excessive washing during the knitting’s finishing stage to achieve an appealing softness.
Grade B quality cashmere is used by most of larger clothing brands, especially when manufacturing jumpers.
• Grade C cashmere offers the lowest quality of the three and is not even considered cashmere by the US Government. The grade C cashmere hair’s diameter measures between 19-30 microns and in average are 28mm long.
The grade of the cashmere fibres directly impacts on durability, softness, resilience and pilling of the resulting material. Here is a brief overview of each:
The longer and finer is the fibre, the stronger it is.
For natural fibres, the length and the length distribution are critical properties, which influence processing, performance and price2.
The length is connected with strength as it enables the spinning of more durable yarns.
Stronger yarns avoid holes on the final garment, given that the right number of plies and twists is applied to those yarns (see ‘5. Cashmere Yarn Ply Count’ below).
A yarn composed of long fibres achieves the softest feel as fewer ends are loose.
It creates a more uniform and smooth surface since it allows them to be tightly spun.
The resulted product is softer, displaying a more lustrous finishing as it facilitates light reflection.
The friction against fibres caused by normal wear of the material promotes the formation of small fibre balls.
It mainly occurs when the knit is made of yarns which were spun using shorter or a blend of different length of fibres, especially those that combine natural and man-made types.
Longer fibres pill less than short ones because it has less loose fibre ends, needing considerable more abrasion on the fabric surface to release themselves from the yarn.
Long cashmere fibres maintain their physical integrity for a longer time, allowing garments to retain their structure.
Because cashmere is naturally elastic and resilient (bounces back quickly), it has unique properties such as rapid wrinkle recovery, durability, bulk, lofty hand feel, draping capacity and warmth.
The ability for a garment to be extended or flexed repeatedly and then to recover to its original shape is a crucial factor of its appearance and comfort.
Aside from promoting good extension properties, resilience ensures that you don’t feel compression (caused by shrinkage), while avoiding that the fabric stays in a stretched condition, in which case, you will no longer want to wear it.