A brief history of cashmere

November 10, 2017

A brief history of cashmere

Cashmere is a fabric that everyone has heard of – luxurious, soft and warm – but how much do you really know about this beautiful material and its roots in history?

We’ll start at the beginning and tell you a little about what cashmere actually is and where it comes from. Cashmere wool is woven from the fine hair of the Capra Hircus, a type of goat inhabiting the Himalayas and Mongolia. In order to survive in the cold climate it inhabits, this animal has a particularly fine, soft and warm coat – much more so than sheep’s wool - that protects it from the icy weather.

The Capra Hircus, a cross between the European domestic goat and dwarf goat, lives at an average altitude of 4,000 metres and regularly experiences winters of -40°C, hence the need for their long, thick double fleece.

Once the animal moults (or their coat is combed out) the wool is cleaned and woven into thread which is then turned into fabric and used in items such as pashminas, scarves, knitwear and stoles. Each goat produces only around 200g of cashmere each year, meaning it takes about four goats to make one jumper!

Only discovered in Europe in the nineteenth century, it’s believed to originate from local farmers in Mongolia who raised goats which provided particularly warm wool centuries earlier, with mentions of woolen shawls from these animals appearing in texts from the 3rd century BC and 11th century AD.

The name “cashmere” dates back to the time of the Silk Road, a network of trade routes from Asia to Europe, and there are several different theories about the relationship between the fabric and Kashmir, an area of India. One historical tale suggests a gift of cashmere socks given to the king of Kashmir whereas another mentions the introduction of the wool industry by a different Kashmir ruler. Nevertheless the name has stuck!

Genuine cashmere products should always be soft and shouldn’t be itchy, two reasons why cashmere has stood the test of time and is still so popular today. Its fibres are extremely fine and are bumpy, so that rather than sticking out and touching the skin, they cling to one another, reducing irritation when worn. If cashmere feels rough or itchy it could mean that it’s poorer quality or has been mixed with other fabrics.

Want to try out the softness of cashmere for yourself? Take a look at our beautiful, handmade and ethically sourced range of cashmere scarves here.