Known as the “diamond fiber,” cashmere is prized for its softness and warmth. The first documentation of its use dates back to the 14th century. As trade opened up with the West, cashmere became a popular import among wealthy aristocrats in 18th century Britain and France. Today, the destructive force of fast fashion has made it more readily available, and at affordable prices. Thankfully, innovations in fashion have led to vegan cashmere options that are just as luxurious as (and more sustainable than) the real thing.
What’s the Problem With Cashmere?
Cashmere is made from the fleece of the winter undercoat of the Hircus goats. The animals are native to the grasslands of Mongolia. Many luxury brands still source cashmere from Mongolia. But the demand for slews of cheap cashmere has seen China, where there are an estimated 100 million goats, become the global leader in production. It takes the hair from about four goats to produce one cashmere sweater, Business of Fashion reported.
The global cashmere clip is estimated to be about 6,500 tonnes after it is cleaned. But there is a consequence. Global cashmere demand is pushing the grasslands where goats graze toward desertification (which is also worsening due to climate change). Ninety percent of Mongolia is dry land. It’s increasingly suffering from drought and dzud (an extremely severe winter) that has seen a rise in livestock deaths.
There is also the animal rights side of things. International animal rights group PETA released a graphic exposé of the industry in May 2019. Workers handled goats violently and left them with untreated neck wounds. Several retailers, including H&M and ASOS, stopped selling cashmere as a result of these investigations.
So, if you’re concerned with how your fashion choices affect the environment and animals, the best thing to do is avoid buying new cashmere. Try thrifting or choose vegan cashmere. Here are four brands that are creating cruelty-free options.
1. KD New York
Athleisure brand KD New York introduced its Vegetable Cashmere—a vegan cashmere made from soybeans—through Kickstarter in September 2019. More than 240 backers pledged a total of $54,238. According to the brand, Vegetable Cashmere uses leftover soybean pulp from tofu production. It’s soft to the touch, biodegradable, and it even pills less than animal-fiber cashmere. The company sells a collection of casual knits made from Vegetable Cashmere, including tops, leggings, and hoodies.
Known for its plush faux fur coats, vegan clothing brand Apparis launched a collection of vegan cashmere knits in partnership with PETA this fall. Made in Italy, its cruelty-free fabric features a blend of viscose, polyester, and polyamide and comes in vibrant hues. French designers Amélie Brick and Lauren Nouchi co-founded Apparis. The duo quit their jobs at luxury fashion houses after witnessing the impacts of fashion’s manufacturing practices.
The company is committed to making environmentally-friendly choices: it uses organic dyes, recycles extra fabrics to make new accessories, and it aims to transition to all recycled and biodegradable materials. It offers products in small batches to cut down on overproduction. Apparis also strives to produce clothing as ethically as possible. To ensure that workers are paid fair wages, the brand works closely with boutique factories in Italy and China.
3. Stella McCartney
Sustainable fashion designer Stella McCartney launched Re.Verso™, a sustainable “regenerated cashmere” made from post-factory cashmere waste in the summer of 2016. Top Italian mills spin the raw material into fabric. After that, it can be knitted into clothes just like virgin cashmere.
According to the brand, virgin cashmere had the highest environmental impact of any of its materials—100 times that of wool. Another perspective is that although cashmere made up only .25 percent of Stella McCartney’s raw material use, it accounted for about 25 percent of its overall environmental impact. The brand has reduced its environmental impact related to cashmere by 92 percent by switching to Re.Verso, as calculated by the Environmental Profit & Loss tool developed by Parisian luxury goods brand Kering. It is also working with several partners, including the Sustainable Fibre Alliance, to reverse desertification caused by the cashmere industry in Mongolia.
Located in South India, Faborg manufactures WEGANOOL, a plant-based fabric created by fashion entrepreneur Gowri Shankar that looks and feels like cashmere wool. The sustainable material is made from the pod fibers of the Calotropis, a flowering plant native to southern Asia, and regenerative organic cotton. The plant fibers are lightweight, soft, and have a natural shine, which results in a fabric that’s luxurious to the touch.
Processed without chemicals, WEGANOOL is biodegradable. It’s also as warm as wool and it has antimicrobial properties. Women from the local community hand-process the fibers and local organic farmers use the leftovers as a natural pest repellent. Faborg doesn’t make vegan cashmere clothes, but companies can buy undyed WEGANOOL. It plans to launch knit options next year.
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