The thought of “cashmere” immediately conjures up images of luxury and beauty for people worldwide.
Named after the Kashmiri craftsmen who first made and sold their cashmere wares, the use of cashmere dates back to the 14th century.
Cashmere comes from the cashmere goat, which can take as long as an entire year to produce enough wool to create a cashmere scarf.
Their coats are shorn throughout the year to accumulate the wool needed to make cashmere.
There are other wools out there as well as many other naturally sourced textiles, which are not valued at nearly as high of a premium as cashmere.
Why Is Cashmere So Expensive? (Top 12 Reasons)
1. Cashmere Goats Are Rare And Limited In Their Habitats
In order to make cashmere, wool must be shorn from a very specific type of goat: the cashmere goat.
These goats only inhabit particular mountain habitats in Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Himalayas, Mongolia, and China.
Goats from the Himalayas—the Himalayan Mountain goat, also known as a Pashmina goat—are known to produce the softest, finest cashmere wool.
A subset of cashmere, known as “pashmina,” has emerged at a premium for customers.
Again, this premium cashmere is only available in an extremely limited region.
Furthermore, the weather conditions in this region are intense.
This makes producing the cashmere wool as well as transporting it difficult, which in turn, only drives up the cost of cashmere wool further.
It should come as no surprise, then, that only 0.5% of the wool produced in the world is cashmere.
A volume in excess of 95% of the goats in the world can be found in Tibetan deserts. Goat farmers in China, Mongolia, Afghanistan, and Iran have been trying to rapidly catch up to their Tibetan counterparts—if not exceed their production.
However, as noted, the quality of goats varies with each region and the conditions in which the goats are raised.
This often puts a cap on the actual value of the cashmere wool each region produces.
2. Each individual Cashmere Goat Produces Very Little Cashmere
The limited supply of cashmere extends through each individual goat.
Each cashmere goat produces very little cashmere wool.
The average annual output from a single cashmere goat is merely 200 grams of cashmere wool.
The amount of cashmere fiber that can actually be used is made smaller by the fact that the fibers must be cleaned.
Naturally occurring oil and dirt must be stripped away in order to render the cashmere usable in textile production.
Contrast this to the standard sheep, which produces three kilograms (3,000 grams) of wool each year.
Additionally, not all goat cashmere is created equal.
The color of the coat matters tremendously for a number of reasons, including the range of colors that can be offered.
The rarest and most valuable color of cashmere is white.
The most common and least valuable color is black.
There is an entire spectrum of cashmere colors in between, all of which vary in their value.
3. Cashmere Is Produced Each Year For A Limited Time Only
Aside from the high quality standards enforced on cashmere, which we will address shortly, there is a distinct seasonality to cashmere.
It may seem odd to think of wool in terms of a particular season.
It’s easier to think of seasonality when it comes to the availability of produce or even the occurrence of sporting events.
Cashmere goats molt between March and May, which means that they develop a shaggy, coarse layer of hair in addition to their fine undercoat.
This creates a temporary increase in the availability of cashmere, although it is rapidly purchased and subsequently flies off the shelves.
During this time of year, each individual goat has its highest single output of fine cashmere wool, which clocks in at between 40 and 60 grams of fiber.
4. Must Meet High Quality Standards To Count As “Cashmere”
As if there weren’t enough factors contributing to the limited supply of cashmere, including limited production in limited regions for limited periods of time only, there is yet another limitation.
Only the finest strands of cashmere wool may actually be used to generate cashmere products.
Anything short of this highest quality standard will be evident to discerning buyers.
It can be easier to think about cashmere in terms of specific output, such as a single scarf or shawl.
To generate enough wool to produce one scarf, as many as two or three goats’ worth of wool must be gathered.
Otherwise, it could take one single goat several months or even years to make a sufficient quantity of wool that is up to the quality standards of cashmere.
Aside from differences in cashmere production between different goats, there are also marked differences between different regions.
Goats in the Himalayas are considered to be elite, producing the highest quality of cashmere overall.
In fact, some experts liken Himalayan cashmere goat output to the wool version of diamonds.
Like in the diamond industry, there is a process to certify the quality of products on the market and maintain industry standards.
There is actually an entire institute, called the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturers’ Institute, which monitors the standards of cashmere being produced and sold.
In the United States, this institute is in close communication with the Federal Trade Commission to protect consumers and the market from predatory practices of selling lower-quality wools.
This Institute regularly tests the quality of products.
It is able to examine a textile and identify the types of hairs in it.
This group regularly calls out brands that try to sell their items as “100% cashmere” but are really blends that may contain as much as a quarter (if not more) of other hairs, perhaps most commonly yak hair.
5. Extremely High Global Demand
Cashmere has earned nicknames for its luxurious, rare status, such as “diamond fiber” or even “soft gold.”
Its name is synonymous with the most premium quality textiles.
It should come as no surprise, then, that it is in large global demand.
With high demand come higher prices, particularly as the supply of cashmere is so limited.
By 2025, the global cashmere clothing market is expected to reach a whopping $3.50 billion in value.
It was already valued at $2.66 billion as of 2018.
Market research experts credit the “luxury” title of cashmere to its growth, as well as its efficacy in keeping people warm.
Materials that both look elegant and are highly functional may very well be the “unicorns” of industry.
6. Not Only Luxe, But Also More Effective: Cashmere Is Warmer Than Wool
The wool that is shorn off goats to produce cashmere is actually the goat’s undercoat.
As the layer closest to the skin, it is both the softest and warmest layer.
Cashmere wool in particular is known as being softer than any other wool.
It measures a mere nineteen microns or less, making it super fine and easy to weave into the most delicate of garments, from scarves through sweaters.
For reference, nineteen microns is about one-tenth the diameter of a single human hair.
The highest grade of cashmere is pashmina, and it measures between twelve and fourteen microns in width.
This level of fineness also means that cashmere fibers can be woven together to be very close-fitting, and therefore warmer than other wools.
Again, pashmina wins here, capable of being woven into the softest fabrics that also keep people the warmest.
It is estimated that the wool of cashmere goats is approximately eight times warmer than standard sheep’s wool.
7. Cashmere Wool Fibers Have Special, Standout Properties Compared To Other Types Of Wool
As noted already, cashmere wool strands are known and celebrated for their fineness and softness.
These two properties are key reasons cashmere is esteemed as such a luxury textile.
Despite how thin the fibers are, cashmere is actually quite strong.
Given its origins as animal fur that must resist the elements and keep animals with little body fat warm throughout very intense winter conditions, it comes as no surprise that it is materially resilient.
Cashmere also has a high moisture content, though.
This helps to reinforce its strength as well as keep it adaptable in variable temperatures.
This moisture content can also help keep cashmere easier to work with as well as to dye.
Again, a luxurious yet robust material will only continue to enjoy its popularity—and therefore remain a premium product.
8. Cashmere Requires Intense Manual Labor
The skill that goes into the production of cashmere is extremely time-consuming and labor-intensive, with only the best artisans producing the caliber of cashmere products that the public expects.
Cashmere goats must be shorn individually by hand, then gently transported over to a facility for inspection.
All of the wool gathered must be manually inspected, strand by strand, to ensure that it is of the highest quality.
Again, each shorn strand is manually separated for inspection, and this is no trivial or quick feat.
Because of the meticulous process involved, it can take on the scale of months to even years in order to produce a single piece of cashmere clothing—although some artisans have developed their own faster methods to help accelerate their output a bit.
Still, only so much acceleration may be achieved without compromising quality.
It is not feasible to scale up cashmere processing very much without compromising on quality.
Of note, cashmere goats that consistently produce inferior quality wool are often the first to be sold for slaughter.
9. Even Processing Cashmere Is A Delicate Process
The same virtues of material fineness and softness that make cashmere so widely celebrated also make it nearly impossible to work with.
Only the most skilled craftsmen can produce quality cashmere goods, and they must be careful every step of the way to make sure that they do not overdye, overprocess, or overhandle the fibers and inadvertently reduce their quality.
Quality dyes must be used in order to minimize the potential damage to the fibers.
Color fidelity must be ensured, and the potential for transfer of color or any harm to the user must be prevented.
After all, such a premium product attracts an elite clientele.
The cashmere fibers are dyed and then must be allowed to aerate fully, so that they can dry without clumping together.
The next step is a precaution to ensure that the cashmere strands remain separated.
The fibers are “carded” or detangled and then lined up on cards.
From there, the strands may be spun together into yarn.
There is a grading system by which the cashmere output is measured.
Both the fineness and length of the cashmere strands are rated.
Cashmere hairs of premium quality may have a width of no more than fourteen microns.
Again, the delicate nature of a single cashmere strand cannot be understated, but it also speaks directly to why this textile is valued at such a premium.
10. The Need To Differentiate From Lower-Quality Competitors Is Actually Driving Prices Up
The luxury associated with “cashmere” textiles has practically given this type of wool a brand of its own.
As a result, textile makers want to cash in.
This desire to profit off cashmere may see opportunity in consumer hunger to buy “cashmere” products at a lower cost.
As a result, lots of lower-quality competitors have entered the market.
The catch is that they are not producing 100% cashmere products.
These lower-quality wares often contain some cashmere, but it is mixed with yak hair or, in some of the worst-case scenarios, rat fur.
These cashmere imitators only serve to hype up the material even more and generate further demand.
Consumers can spot the difference, and ultimately continue to seek out the higher quality “real stuff.”
This allows real cashmere producers to drive up the cost of their goods because of the higher demand and limited supply and to further differentiate their products from the poorer quality competitors.
Even though the lower-quality cashmere products are overall less expensive than real cashmere, over time, these manufacturers have been able to increase their price in response to demand.
As a result, real cashmere makers can further drive their prices up as well, making cashmere even more expensive.
11. Major Premium Brands Are Claiming Cashmere As A Key Brand Offering
Europe holds the largest market share of cashmere in the world.
Several major luxury clothing brands and retailers have invested heavily in product offerings that utilize cashmere.
In fact, these brands’ cashmere products have become closely tied to their brand name.
Shoppers expect and specifically seek out these brands’ cashmere offerings, only continuing to further drive the success of these major brands.
Of course, with increased brand success comes more consumer interest.
Increased global disposable income, as well as brand popularity, further drive up the demand.
In addition to the shawls and scarves mentioned earlier, cashmere can also be used in sweaters and jackets, trousers, and tees or polo shirts.
In fact, because tees and polos are one of the most affordable cashmere offerings, this segment of customer interest is anticipated to be the biggest driver of ongoing cashmere industry growth.
There has been no solution to generating more cashmere without reducing quality, and so the supply of cashmere fiber remains limited, resulting in its prices remaining high as well.
12. Cashmere Is Hypoallergenic
Sheep’s wool contains lanolin, which triggers allergies and sensitivities in many people.
Actually, fewer than 2% of people who had been told previously they likely had a lanolin allergy showed sensitivity to the substance lanolin.
What they observe as a lanolin allergy could very well be a sensitivity to something used in the processing of sheep’s wool into textiles.
This problem is not seen with cashmere.
Cashmere does not contain lanolin, and so the sensitivities associated with lanolin are not observed.
Furthermore, the steps used to process and dye cashmere are far gentler than those used in sheep’s wool, which is coarser and tougher.
Cashmere does not require high temperatures or harsh chemicals in its production or in washes of its finished products.
As a result, the final cashmere products are considered to be hypoallergenic.
In fact, many people laud cashmere as an appropriate material to use around babies, who are often considered to be some of the most sensitive consumers.
Setting aside allergies and other sensitivities, cashmere is not as itchy as other wools.
It is softer and smoother against the skin.
This effect is another contributing factor to its identity as a premium luxury product and yet another reason it persists in being an expensive purchase.NEXT: Why Is Scotch So Expensive? (Top 10 Reasons)