My soft spot for cashmere

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I live a healthy vegan life but I have a soft spot for splurging on hot salty chips and soft cashmere jumpers. I happily gave up leather over 10 years ago, but have never got over my love for a beautiful cashmere sweater with my reasoning being that leather for me is the skin of a dead animal, while the cashmere wool from a goat has not resulted in it's suffering or death.

The cashmere industry has exploded in recent years with large fashion companies cashing in on their buying power, demanding low prices for high volumes of cashmere from industrialised China. Where cashmere was once, and I think still should be, a luxury item, you can now buy a cashmere jumper in the US and UK for $40. But what has been the cost to the animals and the environment to produce these garments at such cheap prices?

The majority of cashmere used to come from Mongolia. The cashmere goats are raised by nomads on the vast grass plains and in spring the wool from the underbelly is removed by careful combing. It is eight times as warm as sheep's wool and it takes just a few animals to produce enough cashmere for a sweater.

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Photo of cashmere comb and Mongolian cashmere goats

Following the growth in intentional demand, there are over 100 million cashmere goats herded in the northern plains of China - China now being the world's largest supplier of cashmere with over 70% of the market. The 'overstocking' is adding to China's environmental woes, with the goats grazing resulting in the land becoming barren - the UN says the plains are rapidly turning into deserts.

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Photo of dust storm captured moving across the Chinese plains.

Often the internet allows us to see into industries that we otherwise would not have knowledge about and although there are many articles and studies on the cashmere industry, I was not able to find anything on "factory farmed" cashmere goats. Call me a sceptic, but I would love  confirmation that this does not occur, in a world where we have commoditised living beings to suit our needs in all other industries. Are there industrialised sheds full of goats somewhere in China that are simply hidden from view or would that cause their wool to not grow to the standard needed for a cheap cashmere sweater?

I stick to purchasing mine from a good friend's brand, Banjo and Matilda, as I can speak to her personally about where she sources her cashmere from (herders in Mongolia), plus I love her designs. There are also reputable brands standing for "sustainable cashmere". Some include Loro Piana, Pure Collection, Chainti and Stella McCartney.  You will pay an additional price for the garment, however when you think about the energy that goes into making one, for the goats, the herders, the weavers and the designers, it deserves the high price.

The question of cruelty does cross my mind. Are they able to live their life out on the plains until they die of old age? I would LOVE someone to go hang out there and get some hard information! For now I understand why true-blue vegans choose to not wear cashmere, yet for the moment my line still is drawn in the sand here and I give thanks to the goats that keep me warm in winter and still enjoy the occasional splurge on a big bowl of hot chips!

The short video below explores the cashmere industry in Mongolia. The imagery is beautiful.

http://youtu.be/EgPBDg1OEjU