THE HISTORY OF CASHMERE:
WHY IS CASHMERE SO COVETED?
From being a traditional covering for Indian noblemen, cashmere has evolved to become a global fashion symbol that exudes luxury.
Cashmere is a designer’s most coveted fabric. And it seduces loyal customers with its delicate texture that’s gentle on the skin.
This versatile, lightweight fabric is also easy to work into intricate designs. All of this has seen cashmere regularly incorporated into seasonal collections of some of the biggest names in high fashion.
In this way, the luxurious fabric has garnered the reputation of being a fashion status symbol.
THE FIRST DOCUMENTED MENTION OF CASHMERE SHAWLS DATE BACK TO 3BC
It all began thousands of years ago, in the snow-capped Kashmir mountains and surrounding valleys. The Changthangi goats that roam these high-altitude landscapes survive the harsh winters due to the insulating properties of their long-hair, double fleece coats, which are eight times warmer than merino wool. Cashmere and pashmina are made from the fine fibers of the goats’ undercoat.
THE BOOM OF THE GLOBAL CASHMERE INDUSTRY
The first documented mention of cashmere shawls date back to 3BC. By the 13th century, the Indian shawl weaving industry exclusively clothed high-ranking noblemen, in line with local traditions.
It was the 15th century Kashmiri ruler, Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin, who established a wool industry and sourced skilled weavers from neighbouring countries. This catapulted the region into becoming one of the world’s largest producers of the natural fabric. And resulted in the boom of the global cashmere industry.
Three centuries later, cashmere shawls were imported to Britain and gifted toQueen Victoria, who was Empress of India at the time. This gave rise to the Anglicisation of Kashmir and the naming of the fabric after the region. Soon enough cashmere shawls became valuable heirlooms that were worn by women at their coming-of-age or wedding ceremonies. High-society women also draped the paisley-designed shawls across their shoulders as a fashion statement.
THE CASHMERE CRAZE TOOK HOLD OF FRANCE BY THE EARLY 19TH CENTURY
The cashmere craze took hold of France by the early 19th century, when Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife, Empress Josephine, popularised the fabric. She was said to have around 400 shawls. As the appetite for the fashion accessory grew, so mass-produced imitations sprung up across India and Europe.
This made seasonal shearing more popular than collecting moulting hairs from the goats’ nearby environments. Hand-spun wooden looms were soon replaced with mechanised spinning machines to keep up with growing demand.
Photo by Peter Lewicki on Unsplash
Uxbridge in Massachusetts became a prominent textile centre during the Industrial Revolution thanks to its power looms and woollen mill. This also led to the experimentation of cashmere blends and merino wool shawls.
CASHMERE TODAY AND TOMORROW
Today, the world boasts a cashmere goat population in excess of 700 million and a cashmere clothing market that was valued at $2.66 billion in 2018 and is expected to expand by 3.96% between 2019 and 2025. The rise of organic and sustainable cashmere is making it widely popular among environmentally conscious consumers too.
Designers also favor cashmere over synthetic and heavier fabrics because of its adaptability to temperature and breathability. It is a long-lasting fabric that, if well looked after and rejuvenated by initiatives such as the Cashmere Spa, can be a lifelong investment piece in any closet.