Cashmere - Made in Scotland.

Cashmere - Made in Scotland.

We are entering a new age in fashion where, with every single purchase we make, we need to stand back and consider exactly what it is that we are buying and how it might impact our planet. In light of this, cashmere stands out as a contentious topic.

Cashmere is the perfect fibre in so many ways, not only is it soft, delicate and fine, it’s three times more insulating than sheep wool and is extremely versatile. On one hand, cashmere is a natural fibre, so unlike polyester, nylon and other synthetics, there are no issues regarding its ability to decompose, but, as with all animal-derived products, the goats used in the production of cashmere produce a carbon footprint.

Cashmere is typically harvested from goats once a year. One individual goat may produce between 1 and 3 pounds of fleece, although it often takes several goats to produce enough fabric for a single garment. China is the world's leading producer of raw cashmere, followed by Mongolia, Kyrgyzstan, and other countries in the Middle East.  Cashmere production in many of these countries is harmful to the environment because it is a significant contributor to soil degradation followed by desertification. Cashmere goats, who must consume 10% of their bodyweight in food each day, eat the roots of grasses, so they can never grow back. In fact, 65% of Mongolia’s grasslands have already been degraded, and 90% of Mongolia is in danger of desertification, which has led to some of the world’s worst dust storms on record and air pollution dense enough to reach North America.

Given the significant harm that cashmere production causes, conscious consumers’ best bet is to avoid new cashmere unless they do their research very carefully.  If you’re really keen on snuggling into the warm fibre, opting for recycled cashmere is an eco-friendly option, though keep in mind that many partly recycled garments are blended with new cashmere.

However, thanks to Jillian and Neil McEwen of Lunan, Angus – sustainable cashmere is now being produced in the heart of Scotland.   Jillian began farming goats in 2016 as part of regenerative methods on the family farm to improve biodiversity and provide niche products they could sell directly. Initially, they sourced 15 cashmere goats; their herd is now 250. Scotland once bred goats for cashmere production but cheaper imports undercut the market and Jillian began by researching a project in the 1980s, funded by the EU and Scottish Government, that looked at the viability of encouraging a return to cashmere to help farmers in Scotland diversify.

There was great feedback from the initial trials, the Scottish-produced fibres behaved exactly the way that high-quality cashmere should.  Not all the fibres are suitable to be turned into 100% cashmere, so they blended some with Shetland wool. Jillian said: “It was important for us to choose wool that had the same provenance and ethics as our own, which is produced in Scotland from a native breed. Shetland wool is traditionally warm but very rough but, by combining a small percentage of cashmere, it’s completely transformed the product.”  Jillian and Neil recently launched their pure cashmere yarn, and 5%, 10% and 20% cashmere blends on Etsy. Jillian said: “The response has been amazing, there is a huge community and global following for Scottish-produced cashmere and Shetland wool.”

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