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A short introduction to sustainability in cashmere

A short introduction to sustainability in cashmere

I remember the book that inspired me to start reading up on sustainability in the cashmere industry. Lucy Siegle’s To Die For: Is Fashion Wearing Out the World? introduced me to an entirely new way of thinking about fashion and for one reason or another, there was something about her call for more sustainable cashmere that really stuck. Maybe it was the allure of luxury fashion, or maybe it was because it was my first real understanding of the relationship between nature and the industry. Either way, four years on and I find myself totally hooked, having specialised in cashmere for my master’s degree, and deciding to put down roots in Scotland, one of the UK’s cashmere hubs. 

Cashmere, like everything else in fashion, has come up against a variety of sustainability and ethical problems in the wake of overconsumption and our disposable attitude towards our clothes. Cashmere is a rare fibre that is really reliant on the health and wellbeing of the animals, humans and environments that help it grow. Grown on the lovely, soft underbelly of a cashmere goat, it takes four goats one year to produce enough cashmere to create one lightweight women’s jumper. So if you think about all the natural resources (such as land, water and food) that are needed to rear cashmere goats for small quantities of fibre, you also need to think about how to responsibly and sustainably use them to ensure their existence in the future.

Mongolia, which is where I first met the Begg & Co team, is home to millions of cashmere goats that have been herded by nomadic communities for centuries. Once a relatively small scale operation, cashmere is now one of Mongolia’s biggest exports and employs over 100,000 people all over the country. Cashmere is a really positive economic opportunity for Mongolia however there are factors to consider before heading out and buying cashmere. These include ensuring that your cashmere is sourced from responsible brands, such as Begg & Co, who invest their time and resources into environmental sustainability initiatives. You should also educate yourself on the potential impacts of impulsive shopping on the animals and people behind your clothing and what you can do to counteract them.

Mongolia is a very dry country. I remember how struck I was by the view when we flew into the capital. The landscape was vast and a really beautiful dusty brown that reflected the most amazing light. With a changing climate, Mongolia is already seeing the effects of climate change and it’s never been more important for consumers to take a longer look at what they’re buying. While there are lots of ethical factors that may come with cashmere, boycotting the fibre simply isn’t the answer, but making informed consumer decisions that promote its sustainability and ethics is. Here are a couple of things you should do if you want to buy cashmere more sustainably and support the development of a stronger and more nurturing supply chain.

The Sustainable Fibre Alliance

Make sure you always shop with cashmere brands that are members of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA). The SFA work throughout the entirety of the cashmere supply chain to facilitate more sustainable cashmere by promoting;

  • Environmental resilience in cashmere producing regions.
  • Improved long-term prospects for herding communities that rely on cashmere markets.
  • Assurance on animal welfare within cashmere production.

By supporting brands that support the SFA you’re encouraging the sustainable development of a more ethical, responsible and resilient industry that benefits people, animals, and the planet. Find out more about the SFA > 

 

Buy well

The second thing you can do is shop less and buy well. Cashmere is and should always be an expensive fibre and you should always expect to pay more for it. It takes a lot of goats to produce small amounts of cashmere and plenty of time, skill and resources to make it into the beautiful finished product it is. If you fancy buying cashmere you should do so with this in mind, so read up and educate yourself before investing in a ‘bargain’ item that could be fueling the overconsumption of valuable natural resources and the economic neglect of skilled labour.

 

Make your cashmere last

Keep your cashmere looking lovely for longer by making sure you look after it properly. During the summer months make sure you store it away to keep it safe from hungry moths. When your cashmere gets a little bobbly it’s nothing to worry about, simply remove the bobbles (or pills) with a sharp razor or a ‘debobbling’ machine and your garment will be good as new! Begg & Co recommend dry cleaning only for their products.

 

Begg & Co are doing some absolutely fantastic things with respect to keeping their operations sustainable. Find out more about what they’re up to here and let me know what you think on my Instagram.

 

Author: Charlotte Blades-Barrett

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