It might be getting colder but the silver lining is that it’s also the time to get out your cosy knitwear. There's nothing better than putting on a gorgeous knit, whether its for heading out or snuggling up on the sofa whilst enjoying a hot drink (or perhaps something a little stronger!)
Cashmere is a particular favourite. The fine fibres are so super soft that you relax at first touch, making you feel as good on the inside as you look on the outside.
Yet, what was once synonymous with luxury has now become ubiquitous due to mass production. Today, cashmere is available at every price range, which can be disillusioning, and make it difficult to work out if or when it is a good investment.
But don't be fooled - not all cashmere is made equally. It's available at a spectrum of qualities, just as much as price, and it isn't always produced ethically. What's more, in some cases it's possible that cashmere is being sold as 100% cashmere when it actually includes wool, viscose, acrylic - or even rat fur.
So how can you separate the good from the bad? Here are the top factors to consider when looking for beautiful quality, ethical cashmere that's a worthwhile investment:
1. How does it feel?
Touch is an easy indicator of quality. The best place to test it is by putting it on your chin as this is the most sensitive skin area. And when you put it on, you should feel the warmth straight away.
Also, pull the product gently for a short period of time – if it remains the same and doesn’t look slightly deformed, it is high-quality.
2. How long are the yarns?
It's a common misconception that pilling (bobbling) = bad quality. Whatever the standard, it will eventually pill because it's simply caused by friction. So, in particular, expect it to occur under the arms or where a bag rubs.
However, good quality should delay the inevitable; lengthier cashmere fibres maintain their integrity for longer, which means they retain their structure and are less prone to pilling.
Charli London sources high quality, hypoallergenic cashmere, made of fibres that are longer than regular cashmere to ensure it lasts longer. Shop all Charli London here
An easy way to find out the length of the cashmere is by checking its grade: Grade A is made of the longest and thinnest fibres, so it lasts the longest. Grade B is good but not as thin, and Grade C is almost twice as thick as Grade A.
3. Which processes have been used to make the garment?
Most cashmere jumpers are knitted using a two-ply yarn, which is a yarn twisted of two single 'legs' of yarn. This plying together keeps the yarn straight, resulting in a more even knitting stitch, keeping the knitted panels of the garment straight and of the correct shape.
If the garment features an in-weave design other than horizontal stripes, it should have been made using a traditional, labour-intensive technique called intarsia. This results in smooth lines around the shape(s), ensuring a quality finish. Therefore, if the shape(s) feature jagged lines, it's likely this technique has been avoided to cut costs and will result in a less attractive design.
Cashmere is the winter undercoat of the cashmere goat, with the majority of today's premium cashmere coming from Mongolia where the cold climate and hearty lifestyle produces the longest, thinnest, softest hair.
Procuring cashmere is a very labour intensive process. Traditionally, the goat is hand-combed during molting season in the spring, the fibres are separated by length, and the impurities are removed by hand.
So, to cut costs, with poorer, cheaper cashmere, the goat is directly shaved - which is harder on the goat, leaving it suffering in the cold. It also results in more short, low-quality hairs and impurities ending up in the wool. Conversely with quality (often pricier) cashmere, the traditional method of hand-combing the goat is maintained, resulting in a much kinder process.
Brands are increasingly recognising the importance of transparency, with those that truly value ethical and sustainable manufacturing putting in discernible efforts to share this with the consumer. So make sure to keep an eye out for this information.
At the-Bias-Cut, you can find out about each label's ethical and sustainability commitments via the 'Sustainable & Ethical Production' tab on each product page. For example, each cashmere jumper by Jacynth London has been made of white and light grey fibre (which requires the fewest dying processes) in Inner Mongolia at a small factory located no more than 100km away from the goat itself. And each piece has been made by partner local yarn producers with more than 70 years experience between them sourcing the finest fire, and that the raw material itself is supplied by local goat farmers who maintain animal husbandry practices.
5. And finally, how does it look?
A good test to check quality is to hold the cashmere garment up to the light – it should be radiant in colour, with a sheen rather than shiny, and light in weight. If you can easily see straight through the material, it isn’t great quality.
Also avoid garments that have a patchy and uneven finish that may look felted or matted on the top surface as this indicates it has been washed in its final finishing, generally from a manufacture who is not a specialist cashmere knitter.
Ultimately remember, if something doesn't look or seem right, or the price is too good to be true, there are plenty of other options out there. So only purchase cashmere you feel 100% happy with, knowing it's an investment you can feel good about purchasing as much as you feel good wearing it.