The Kashmir goat yields up its precious, downy underhair – arguably the most sought after natural fiber the world has ever known, ever since the 16th century when fashionistas created a sensation in Parisian salons by drawing their ultra-fine cashmere shawls through a wedding ring.
On a recent visit, we witnessed the miracle first-hand, standing outside a small yurt in the Inner Mongolian grasslands. A herdsman named Ma Xi begins quickly, expertly clipping a goat’s coarser guard hairs. Then, with a rake-like instrument tipped with crochet hooks, he combs the goat’s coat. Soft underhair comes out easily, building up quickly on the long tines. The goat seems to enjoy it.
Combing takes about 20 minutes, after which Ma Xi slowly works the blanket of fleece off the tines and stacks it atop a dozen similar bundles. After the combing is done, these will be baled and trucked to the factory. But to us, this is always the most thrilling part of the process. Maybe because, coming from Dodgeville, we like goats?
Cashmere can come from many places – Turkey, Pakistan, New Zealand, even that organic farm down the road from you – but Mongolian “white cashmere” is considered the finest in the world.
Why is this true? Top-quality cashmere fibers are long, strong and fine. Kashmir goats raised elsewhere are often shorn rather than combed, which results in shorter fibers. Also, warmer climates discourage fleece growth. The cold, windy climate of Mongolia is perfect for producing the longest, loftiest fleece found anywhere.
Once at the factory, the goat fleece is cleaned, dyed, dried, mixed for color consistency and spun into yarn.
Special machinery has been installed for Lands’ End to double the single-ply yarn, since all Lands’ End cashmere is made from the heavier two-ply. This added heft is obvious when we handle several of the finished sweaters. Lands’ End sweaters are also more tightly knit than many on the market, which adds to their weight, softness and durability.
Look at a typical cashmere sweater purchased elsewhere and you’ll notice that it “shows through” under light, while our heftier sweater is opaque and blocks light. More important, it just feels nicer.
You may be the cynical type, and say, “It’s just a sweater…” But to us, as many years as we’ve been in the apparel business, it still feels like a miracle. What else can you say about remarkable goats that live in the harshest climate, yet grow the softest fleece? Or dedicated herdsmen who stay on guard through the longest, coldest nights to ward off the fox and the mountain
Maybe most important of all, what other experience in the world of clothing can thrill like your first touch of cashmere?
So experience the miracle, Lands’ End style, and think of the unsung goats who brought it to you.