Cashmere is a luxury fabric that comes at a hefty price. It’s admired over wool because it’s softer, lighter, and far more insulative. But like any animal-derived product, it begs to question – is it cruelty-free? What price do the goats have to pay so that you can wear their coat?
Commercial cashmere is not cruelty-free. Although goats aren’t killed for their coats, the shearing process is traumatic. Numerous goats also die of cold-induced stress once they’re shorn in the winter. Goats that don’t produce a certain quality of wool are then sold for meat.
No one will blame you for wanting cashmere clothing in your cupboard. But if you want to avoid animal cruelty, you need to pay extra attention to where your cashmere is sourced.
Spoiler alert: most cashmere is not cruelty-free. But if you look in the right places and can afford to pay a bit more – you can find more ethical distributors.
Here’s everything you need to know about cashmere production.
Can Cashmere Be Cruelty-Free?
Yes, cashmere can be cruelty-free. But it’s not as easy as walking into a shop and asking – there’s more to it than that.
If you’re in awe of cashmere – you’re not alone. People have used it for centuries. Biblical references show that woolen fabric dates back to the 3rd Century BC.
Until recently, cashmere was seen as a rare and elite fabric reserved for the ultra-rich. But as demand rose – farmers tried to maximize production and make it more accessible.
Today, you can find cashmere in several chain clothing stores like H&M or Zara. While it’s more expensive than wool – it’s not unaffordable.
Unfortunately, if you’re dedicated to ending animal cruelty, wearing cashmere is something you may have to forego unless you’re willing to source your clothing from the few ethical suppliers that exist.
Where Does Cashmere Come From?
Cashmere fabric is made by processing the soft undercoat from the cashmere goat. Initially, these goats were found in the Kashmir region of central Asia – located between India and Pakistan.
Today, cashmere goats are traditionally raised in the Tibetan highlands, Himalayas, and Mongolia because their warm wool protects them from the harsh winters that drop to -40C as them.
But China, Afghanistan, Iran, and Mongolia are the most prominent commercial cashmere producers worldwide.
These goats’ woolen coats become dense and warm during the winter, protecting them from the extreme cold. But as spring approaches, it slowly starts to shed naturally.
The traditional (and ethical) way to collect the cashmere is by gently brushing the goats until it comes off.
But this process is time-consuming, especially when you consider it takes four goats to make one cashmere sweater. So most producers won’t choose ethics over profit.
The majority of large producers choose to shear the goats in a far more aggressive and traumatic way.
Can You Buy Ethical Cashmere?
In short - yes, you can. But it takes a little research and careful consideration.
It’s thought that China produces 65% of the world’s cashmere – making about 12 000 tons per year. Mongolia comes in second, making about 3000 tons per year.
The ethical and cruelty-free way to collect cashmere is by brushing the goats. Unfortunately, most of these cashmere goats are sheared, so it’s tricky to find.
But not all hope is lost. Certain farmers still choose to practice the traditional brushing technique as it’s better for the goats and locals.
You’ll find that most ethical cashmere is produced in Mongolia, and its population is thriving – not to mention that it’s the best environment for the goats to thrive too.
In the last ten years, local herders in Mongolia have tripled as the government encouraged people to get back into rural areas to increase traditional practices or lifestyles.
Strategically, most ethical cashmere brands have partnered directly with Mongolian herders and pay them directly – to support this growing local economy post their communist regime.
This means herders have enough money to charge a fair wage for their people and goats. However, this growing economy is also a cause for environmental concern.
Can Cashmere Be Eco-Friendly?
Yes, you can find eco-friendly cashmere with a bit of digging. The biggest concern we currently face is overbreeding and how that impacts the environment. We will discuss this in more detail further down.
But, there are also clear sustainable benefits to cashmere because it’s 100% natural fiber. This means it’s:
So if you want to source the most eco-friendly options, we recommend looking for garments that are either secondhand or made with recycled cashmere.
Alternatively, you can also look for specific certifications that prove the cashmere comes from an ethical farm that controls goat breeding and the amount of land used.
Unfortunately, there are also many sustainable disadvantages to producing cashmere that we cannot avoid. And overbreeding these goats to keep up with demand is to blame.
We’ll look at what brands you can trust next.
Cruelty-Free Cashmere Brands
As we’ve mentioned – you can find cruelty-free cashmere, and certain brands are making it much more accessible too.
In other words, you’ll find it at department stores, and it doesn’t have to be much more expensive either.
And since the concerns around cashmere production are growing – more certification boards are popping up to help regulate the industry and help consumers make ethical choices. Here are some of our favorite options:
This new brand is all about making sustainable, ethical, cruelty-free cashmere apparel that benefits local farming communities, the environment, the goats, and your pocket!
What’s particularly remarkable about Nadaam is that they cut out the middlemen involved in cashmere production and pay fair trade wages to herders and give back to local Mongolian communities.
You’ve got to watch this video on how they got started:
Mandkhai Jargalsaikhan is a young Mongolian fashion designer who wanted to challenge cashmere's current perceptions by educating consumers to make more informed choices about the quality of cashmere they choose and how it was sourced.
Cuyana was founded with the clothing principle, “fewer, better,” which is all about purchasing fewer but better quality clothes and staying clear of the unsustainable fast-fashion practices.
Reformation takes the impact of fashion on the environment seriously. That’s why they’re committed to creating clothes that:
Patagonia has made some excellent ethical strides over the last few years. Not only have they created an ethical down standard, but they have also stopped stocking new cashmere clothing and only sells recycled cashmere apparel.
To learn about their impressive ethical down standard and why the down industry desperately needed mediating – read on here: How to Tell if Feathers are Cruelty-Free.
Cruelty-Free Cashmere Certifications
Be aware that anything “green” or “environmentally-friendly” sells like hotcakes on the market. But it doesn’t necessarily mean anything without certification to back it up.
So if you see sustainable cashmere – look for the following trustworthy certifications:
Why is Cashmere Cruel?
For many years, there has been a common misconception that cashmere is a cruelty-free fabric.
Fashion designers have assured buyers that the goats were completely safe and protected throughout the entire process. After all, no goats are killed to produce this luxurious wool – right?
This couldn’t be further from the truth. For starters, most fashion designers have little to no clue about what happens on farms. They get woven cashmere that’s ready for production and nothing more.
But recently, the brutal reality of commercial cashmere farming has come to light, and what people discovered was horrifying. Here are some of the main issues with the industry.
The Shearing Process Is Stressful for the Goats
Unfortunately, cashmere goats don’t take to shearing like domestic sheep.
With domestic wool sheep – the shearing process is not only cruelty-free, but it’s necessary for their survival. They cannot shed their coats naturally and are comfortable when handled.
Cashmere goats shed naturally – so it could already be seen as unethical to interfere with this process. But more than that – they do not like to be sheared.
In most cases, they need to be chained down when sheared, and some shocking videos revealed how they cry in pain and struggle during the process.
These videos reveal how the animals are chained down or sat in place to avoid movement during the process. After which, the shearer will use a huge knife to cut as close to the undercoat as possible.
They do this to ensure they have plenty of cashmere wool, but the consequence is that it’s easy to cut into the goat’s skin.
Not to mention that if these goats are sheared too soon in the season or before spring comes, it’s common for them to die from exposure to the cold weather.
No sheep or goats should ever die from the shearing process – this is highly unethical.
Cashmere Goat Rearing Has Become Highly Unsustainable
Until the late 20th century, cashmere was a rare material that would make everlasting apparel that families would pass down through generations.
Over the years, things have changed. Today, there’s more demand for cashmere, and farmers do everything they can to keep their supply up
Unfortunately, their efforts are to the detriment of the environment.
The problem is that the more they increase cashmere goat populations, the more damage it causes to the surrounding environment.
One of the most significant issues with overpopulation is that it causes gradual land damage.
Goats are brutal grazers that rip up plants, grass, and roots and damage topsoil with their hooves.
This means the land cannot sustainably feed the animals because it doesn’t have enough time to regenerate and fuel these growing herd numbers.
As a result, it causes an ecological imbalance that turns these hostile regions into deserts.
The bottom line is that more goats mean more ecological devastation.
Farmers Prioritize Profits Over Animal Lives
Another reason why many people have sworn off cashmere is due to the farmers’ lack of concern for animal lives.
While no goats are killed to produce cashmere – those that don’t profit from the business ultimately die too. Goats with any of the following concerns are sent for meat production:
Any animal that doesn’t meet the farmers’ profit needs will die before reaching old age. The farmer has to bring in profits one way or the other.
Another concern is the negative cycle caused by increasing goat populations, and climate change is that the goats have an increasingly more hostile environment to survive in.
The phenomenon of a severe winter storm followed by a summer drought called a dzud is one of the leading causes of death among cashmere goats. In 2010 they lost 9 million animals alone – most of which were cashmere goats.
Native Wildlife is Killed to Protect the Industry
If you’re a farmer in the cashmere industry, all your goats are an investment.
You’ll, therefore, do everything in your power to ensure nothing harms your source of livelihood.
This is the kind of reasoning that the majority of cashmere farmers hold. Often, wild animals will find their way into their farms and kill the goats.
When this happens, the farmers go as far as killing the native wildlife to protect their profits.
So, it’s not only the goats that suffer in the process. Numerous animal lives are lost in the process just to ensure someone gets that cashmere sweater they’ve been coveting, and a farmer puts a meal on their table.
What Is Vegan Cashmere?
Cashmere is not vegan. Vegans do not exploit any animals for food, clothes, or any other purpose – so a vegan would never use or wear cashmere (or any wool) at all.
In saying that, the trend towards vegan living means that animal-free alternatives are popping up everywhere.
Most vegan cashmere is made from a blend of viscose, polyester, and polyamide. But some brands are taking this a step further to be more ecologically friendly.
Here are some great options for you to try if you are vegan or don’t want to support the cashmere industry at all.
Apparis was founded by two French designers who have launched a collection of vegan cashmere apparel made from viscose, polyester, and polyamide.
The difference is that the company is committed to making environmentally friendly choices. It uses organic dyes, recycles extra fabric bits to make accessories, and aims to move to biodegradable and recycled materials completely.
KD New York
KD New York is one of the brands taking their vegan cashmere production a step further by using natural materials instead.
The brand has trademarked a new material called Vegetable Cashmere™, which uses leftover soybean pulp from tofu production. It’s soft, biodegradable, and pills less than standard cashmere.
Vegan designer Stella McCartney is known for her radical and sustainable approach to fashion.
She launched a range called Re.Verso™ that uses “regenerated cashmere” made from post-factory waste in 2016.
Her top Italian mills spin the raw material into the fabric. From this point, it can be used to make apparel just like virgin cashmere. The only downside is that it is costly.
Faborg is a South Indian-based brand that has created WEGANOOL™ fabric. This plant-based material is made from a blend of regenerative organic cotton and the pod fibers of a native southern Asian plant called Calotropis.
The cotton and plant fibers are lightweight, soft, biodegradable, and even have antimicrobial properties.
Ultimately, the decision to wear or not wear cashmere is yours.
However, you need to consider the repercussions of this fashion decision if you do not take the necessary steps to ensure the cashmere is ethical and eco-friendly.
Although goats are not killed to produce cashmere, the production process isn’t cruelty-free or sustainable.
Animals that don’t meet quality standards are sold for slaughter, and the same fate applies to older animals.
The shearing process is also not gentle and there’s a risk of cutting the animals.
Moreover, because production is mainly done towards the end of winter instead of spring, many goats die due to the cold weather.
Luckily, specific organizations provide ethical and sustainable guidelines for brands to follow to generate cruelty-free cashmere.
So you can always look out for certification stamps on the cashmere you want to buy or source your cashmere directly from cruelty-free brands like Naadam.
And if you’re vegan – there are many options out there for you too. You just need to find innovative brands like KD New York that use recycled plant material to create a vegan cashmere alternative.
In the end, there’s no need to support commercial and cruel cashmere production. Not only is it not an essential piece of clothing, but so many better alternatives are at your fingertips with a bit of research.