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Why Are Cashmere Sweaters So Expensive?

Cashmere is one of the most sought-after fibers in the world. It’s fine hairs are softer, lighter, and can be up to three times more insulating than sheep wool. Cashmere has been a prized material for centuries, but its quality comes at a cost, and a luxury cashmere sweater could cost you well over $150 (ZARZAR FASHION offers luxury cashmere sweaters at approximately half that price through our retail partners). So why is cashmere so expensive?

Cashmere is known for being one of the softest fibers in the world. Cashmere’s thin hairs means that it can be woven into incredibly soft, luxurious garments. Cashmere is also long lasting, but all this comes at a cost when purchasing cashmere sweaters.

Cashmere doesn’t come from sheep like you might think, but from the cashmere goats. These goats are found across the Himalayas where temperatures can drop to -30°C and their freezing cold habitat means that they grow an incredibly thick, warm coat. Cashmere goats have two layers of hair: thick guard hairs, and a super-soft cashmere undercoat. While a sheep can produce at least 3 kilograms (this is 3,000 grams for the arithmetically challenged) of wool each year, a cashmere goat will only give you around 200 grams each year.

Cashmere Sweater Characteristics

Cashmere fiber is two coated. Most of the hair on a cashmere goat is guard hair. The downy undercoat is the cashmere. The guard hair may be long or short, but it is coarse, straight, and distinguishable from the cashmere. The harvested fleece must be dehaired in order to remove this guard hair. It takes only a few overlooked, spiky guard hairs to cause that luxuriously soft cashmere sweater to itch and irritate; also known as the “Prickle Factor”. Because of the tiny amount of cashmere that each goat produces, the supply of cashmere for sweaters is severely limited, and the fibers can only be collected once a year. Even when you’ve harvested the fibers the usable weight halves once it’s been stripped of grease, dirt, and thicker hairs, and cashmere still only makes up 0.5% of the world’s total wool production.

Once you have the pure cashmere, processing it takes a lot of work. The fibers are first dyed to the right color and aerated to stop them from clumping together. Cashmere’s softness means it needs to be treated delicately throughout the whole process, because any chemicals or over processing will damage the fibers. The fibers are then carded – a process that detangles and lines up the hairs in thin sheets so that they can be spun into a yarn. The quality of cashmere sweaters is graded on the fineness and length of the cashmere, and high quality individual cashmere hairs can be as thin as 14 micrometers.

Cheaper cashmere sweater imitations have become hugely popular recently. These cashmere sweater imitations claim to offer the quality of real cashmere for a lower price. Some of these cashmere sweaters may use a slightly lower grade of cashmere, or different processing methods to make the end result more affordable, and while they are comparatively cheap, they’re still usually at least twice the price of wool. There have been extreme cases of mislabeling cashmere sweaters too, and some supposedly 100% cashmere sweaters have been found to contain yak hair or even rat fur. If you do find a really cheap cashmere sweater that claims to be made of real cashmere, it may be too good to be true.