History of Cashmere

Cashmere has always been synonymous with luxury and comfort. Cashmere originated in the Himalayan regions of Central and Southwest Asia. Cashmere got its name from Kashmir, a region now in northern India that became known in Europe in the nineteenth century for its fine shawls.The earliest documented use of cashmere can be traced back to as early as the 14th century. Over centuries, cashmere goats have spread to various other mountainous areas, most notably in China and Mongolia. These goats thrive in adverse conditions, growing thick coats for cold mountain winters. In the spring, the cashmere goats are combed for the downy under-layer of cashmere fibers. These fibers are finer than the finest wool, and exceptionally soft and lofty. To produce enough cashmere for a single sweater, 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.

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!

Early European producers developed new technology to process cashmere fibers, largely using fibers traded from China. Since the advent of sweaters as fashion items in the early twentieth century, cashmere has increased substantially in popularity for a variety of uses, from sweaters to accessories.