Cashmere: History and Origins

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACashmere has always been synonymous with luxury and comfort. Made from the fleece of the cashmere goat found in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Mongolia and China, the earliest documented use of cashmere can be traced back to as early as the 14th century.

To produce enough cashmere for a single scarf, a goat usually needs a year. The long and smooth fibres are combed from underneath the chin and selected based on quality, after which the hairs are cleaned and spun into a filament which can be woven or knitted. Due to the specifics of the cashmere goat’s hair, the cashmere is much thicker, softer and more isothermal than a sheep’s wool. The allure of cashmere has much to do with its origins: the cashmere goats inhabit areas with extreme weather conditions such – in the cold, dry and tough terrains of Mongolia, winters can easily hit temperatures of around 45 degrees below zero. There is a saying that the harder the goat is, the softer the cashmere is.

For centuries, cashmere was known as Pashmina, which comes from the Persian word for wool. There are mentions of cashmere in a handful of Indian documents dating back to the 3rd century but the material grew into an industry only in the 14th and 15th century. The name ‘cashmere’ was coined in the 16th century and was used to describe the scarfs and shawls spun by the craftsmen in the Kashmir area. Most of today’s cashmere comes from outside the Kashmir area – almost all of the 3,000 tones produced annually come from Mongolia, Iran, Afghanistan and New Zealand, but the name still stuck.

It took years for cashmere to arrive in Europe but once it did, it became a cherished and sought-after material and a symbol of status and luxury. In the 18th century, countries like China and India began slowly developing and expanding the cashmere trade up until the 1980s when the industry picked up the pace. And the pace was astonishing: in 1949 there were around 2.4 million goats in Mongolia but their number rose up to the striking 25.8 million in 2004!

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