The demand for the highly desirable, super soft wool means that unethical shortcuts can often be made when it comes to cashmere. Thankfully, these labels are showing that there is a better way forward
We all know and love the fuzzy, cotton candy-like material, but where does Cashmere actually come from? Cashmere fibres are obtained from the undercoats of goats, specifically from the underbelly of the animals. The majority of these goats can be found roaming the Gobi Desert, which straddles the border of northern China and Mongolia. The longer and finer the fibres are, the more premium the product is – the best cashmere is considered to be sourced from Inner Mongolia.
While cashmere itself is an extraordinary material — it’s durable, warm, antibacterial and compostable — there are a number of problems that can arise within the production process. Goats naturally shed their undercoats in the spring, yet the animals can often be shorn early, leaving them without a warm coat in the midst of winter. The expansion of goat herds has led to the destruction of other animals’ natural habitats and desertification of the land, which in turn means that there isn’t enough grass for grazing. The high demand for this wool can also lead to the exploitation of farmers and workers, and on top of all this, the factories that process the material can cause significant pollution.
Luckily, there are organisations helping to make the cashmere industry more ethical. Stella McCartney uses Re.Verso™ regenerated cashmere which is made from post-factory cashmere waste in Italy that would otherwise go to landfill. Its environmental impact is seven times lower than virgin cashmere.
Another prominent player is The Good Cashmere Standard, which audits farmers and producers against three main criteria, and awards them a 12-month-long seal of approval if they pass. The three main areas that they assess are the welfare of the animals, support for farmers, and environmental protection.
While this seal serves as a handy guide to what is ethical and sustainable, we’ve rounded up some key brands that you can trust when it comes to purchasing cashmere.
Kashmina melds Norwegian design with 100 per cent cashmere that is sourced and manufactured in Inner Mongolia — the brand has collaborated with two family-owned knitting factories in the region since 2011. The wool is removed from the goats in spring using traditional methods of combing and more recently, using electrical scissors. Kashmina only uses the purest, highest quality white cashmere and 100 per cent toxin-free dyes.
Founder of Kashmina, Monica Bergem, is a biologist, so nature has always been a priority in her life and work. “It was always important to me to have an ‘environmentally healthy’ business and production,” she says. “Now it has also become important to everyone else, which is just a pleasure to notice.”
In order to make sure Kashmina’s partners in production are aware of these values and act accordingly, the brand uses a standard agreement developed by the Norwegian Fashion Hub, which covers the fundamental requirements for human rights, workers’ rights, animal rights and environmental concerns.
“The work we have ahead, as a responsible cashmere brand, is to continue to increase our standards,” Bergem says. “Like everyone else in the business we can always be better – and we will most certainly continue to constantly look for new opportunities to improve our production, our packaging and our logistics.”
Bergem says cashmere “is perhaps the planet’s most wonderful material” and that although it may be high-priced initially, its innate durability makes it an excellent long-term purchase. “When produced in the right way, a cashmere garment will cost, but will also become a part of your seasonless and timeless wardrobe – the most sustainable choice one can make in 2023. It is a lovely thought for us that our cashmere garments may be left in nature or buried in your garden, and with time it will simply turn into natural soil and go back to the ecological system of natural molecules.”
Arket uses a blend of recycled cashmere and responsible Merino wool in its cashmere products. Merino wool is the coat of the Merino sheep, and is a much easier material to source. If you want to ensure it’s been produced consciously, then you can check whether the producer has been certified by the Responsible Wool Standard.
Alma Ekman, head of womenswear design at Arket says that a lot of their focus is on their customer keeping and rewearing the items again and again: “I see Arket’s cashmere styles as something our customers treasure, take care of and keep using. We hope to see more alternatives like recycled cashmere in the future.”
Helsinki-born cashmere brand Santosh produces everything in Mongolia, buying the raw material directly from the herders on the tundra. Mongolian cashmere goats boast the longest fibres, and these are hand-combed — a traditional removal method — in the spring. The garments are then spun, dyed and manufactured in a factory in the country’s capital of Ulaanbaatar under rigorous ethical, sustainable and social standards. All in all, it's a small production circle, which ensures conscious processes from start to finish.
Santosh also offers an organic line, which comes in four natural colours — white, beige, brown and warm grey — meaning they are undyed and unbleached.
“We try not to look too much towards other brands, but try to keep our production line as sustainable and transparent as possible,” explains CEO and founder of Santosh Antonia Stackelberg. “We believe that will be advantageous to our customers and the company in the long run.”
The quality of Santosh's lines also helps their sustainable credentials, Stackelberg adds. “The world needs less wear-and-tear and more high quality products to ease the pressure on our environment. As Mongolian cashmere is a highly durable fabric, Santosh products are high quality and long lasting, which correlates with our desire for slow fashion that defies wasteful consumerism.”
Phi Atelier is a Stockholm-based label that uses a blend of virgin Merino wool and recycled cashmere that has already been dyed, meaning that it saves a significant amount of water and energy. Even the buttons it uses are made of coroza — a 100 per cent natural material, similar in consistency to hard resin, which is sourced from a South American nut. Phi Atelier also sells patches and a ‘Phix Kit’ to encourage customers to customise, mend and care for their clothes instead of buying new ones.
“I believe that all natural materials will gain an even stronger interest in the future, including cashmere,” says Camilla Modin Djanaieff, founder of Phi Atelier. “I think there will be a stronger interest in where the cashmere comes from and is produced.”