How can one cashmere sweater cost $50 and another $5,000 when both the tags claim the product is “100% cashmere”? There’s a reason for it, and it goes beyond a designer label or even the quality of the fit—there are actually differences in the quality of the wool itself, even though technically both sweaters are made from the good stuff.
So how much is quality cashmere actually worth, and what can you do to ensure you’re getting a good value for your money? Inspired by this Twitter thread by menswear writer Derek Guy, here’s what you need to know before you go about buying a fancy cashmere sweater this winter.
Why is cashmere so pricey in the first place?
Sure, cashmere is awfully soft, but what makes the price point creep into the thousands? The answer is simple: True cashmere is rare, and demand is high. While wool comes from sheep, cashmere comes specifically from cashmere goats. These goats are mostly from a remote region stretching from northern China into Mongolia. As Raja Fashions explains, it takes the wool of three to four goats to make just one coat, while just one sheep produces enough wool for multiple sweaters.
How do identify a quality cashmere knit
The overproduction of cashmere—which hurts the animals and exploits the human labor involved—leads to a worsening in garment quality. With so much cheap cashmere crowding the market, it’s increasingly difficult for confused consumers to distinguish the quality of different knits. And as more buyers become accustomed to lower quality products, bogus “cashmere blends” and outright scams abound.
According to Lands’ End, The Wool Products Labeling Act makes it a crime to mislabel cashmere if it’s not legitimate. Still, not all cashmere is made equal. Look out for “grades” indicating cashmere quality; the longer and thinner the fibers, the better the product. For instance, Grade A cashmere can be as little as 14 microns thick, with Grade C clocking in at around 30 microns of width per cashmere hair.
If you’re shopping for cashmere and the grade is not labeled, you can still test the quality of the product on your own. Here’s how to evaluate cashmere on your own (tips via Inside Hook):
- Touch: Although cashmere is famously soft, be wary if it feels too soft. Some manufacturers purposefully over-wash their fabrics in order to achieve this softness, which results in a product less likely to last.
- Stretch: Gently stretch the cashmere to see how it holds onto its shape—something that good cashmere can do well.
- Pilling: Rub the sweater between your fingers to test for pilling (when small, firm balls of lint that form on the surface). If pilling or shedding starts immediately, you know it’s a lower quality product.
How much does quality cashmere cost these days?
Considering the amount of animal hair and labor used, the quality of the yarn, and the quality of the finishing, the full retail price for a quality cashmere knit should be at least $400, per Guy.
While that is pricey for most, Guy makes a simple case for paying for quality cashmere: the product will last longer. This is better for your wallet in the long run, and potentially better for the environment too. Like with all things fast fashion, encouraging the overproduction of cheap products adds strain to the natural resources and living labor exploited to make those products so cheaply. If you go for that $50 or $100 “cashmere” sweater from ASOS, the lower quality of the product will reveal itself over time, and you’ll be wasting money and resources when you inevitably need to replace it by Christmas 2024.
If you (understandably) don’t want to pay $400 for a cashmere sweater, consider buying knits from naturally cheaper yarns, like Shetland. You could also shop secondhand, double-checking the legitimacy of the brands from secondhand sellers.
At the end of the day, cashmere is a high-end luxury, and cheap cashmere is a false luxury—one that hurts the environment and wastes your money.