Cashmere season

Cashmere expert Holly Adam explains in her guest article. “Have you ever wondered about the disparity in prices on that noble fiber, cashmere? Why your local department store will sell a cashmere sweater for $99.00 and your local high-end specialty store has what looks to be the same thing for $398.00? I am here to tell you that they are completely different animals.

“It has often been said that is takes the hair of at least four cashmere goats to make one sweater, and that is true. The goats are combed, not shorn, to release the most precious hairs, those that are pure white. A white sweater (actually off-white) will always be the softest available is it is the most natural, least processed color. Second to that would be either an oatmeal or silver grey sweater, which includes some of the non-white hairs indigenous to the goat. Brighter and darker colored sweaters require more dye, therefore making them less soft at the outset. However, with proper care (hand washing), these colors will soften over time.

“Cashmere is comparable to gold, in that it is sold by color, and by weight. Price is also affected by supply and demand. It behooves auctioneers to export the finest grades of cashmere to Scotland and Italy, where typically the highest quality knitwear is manufactured. When the best grades have been sold off, the balance of raw material will stay in China to be spun, dyed, and made into garments there.

“The cost of labor, not to mention the hundreds of years of experience, is much more expensive in Europe. In Hawick, Scotland, knitting mills are the only industry in the Borders town. A river runs through the small town, and the water from that river washes every sweater prior to leaving these centuries’ old factories. There is magic in that water.

“The hand work that goes into these garments is indeed very labor intensive, and not easily learned. Look for words like “fully fashioned” to assure a quality garment. Realize that you get what you pay for. A “good” sweater, with proper care, will become a family heirloom. A less good sweater, one that has essentially been cut and sewn together, will last a season or two.

“Words like “ply” are not an indication of quality. They simply imply the number of strands of yarn twisted together to knit the garment. As cashmere raw material is priced by weight, most often the heavier the ply, the more expensive the garment. The exception to the rule is very fine gauge garments, which are knit on specialized machines, requiring flawless execution. Some of these machines actually were designed to knit hosiery! The resulting piece is one of featherweight, very tightly knit cashmere. These products often come from Italy, and have a very silky hand-feel.

“Almost all cashmere will “pill” to some extent, in places where friction is typically caused: under arms, where a handbag is carried. This is simply the natural process of fibers rising to the surface. Tools like a de-fuzz- will keep your quality garments looking good for years to come…and eventually, the pilling will stop. If it continues, chances are you did not purchase a high quality garment-or the garment was over-milled (washed) in the factory for immediate softness but eventual weakness in the fiber.

Next time you consider buying a cashmere sweater, think about how much you love it and how long you want it to last. If you are buying “the color of the season” and know you will tire of it after a year or so, buy whatever you can afford. If, however, you want a garment that will give you years of softness and warmth, buy the very best. You won’t be sorry!

Guest writer Holly Adam is an oft-quoted “cashmere expert”, seen in In Style Magazine and owner of CashmereinC. , an importer of Scottish and Italian products for over twelve years. Find her at http://www.afashionablemind.net
Posted on 2011-11-05 under textiles