Cashmere is a popular animal-based fiber categorized as wool, similar to other varieties such as Merino, Alpaca, and Angora. But how ethical is it? And can it be sustainable and cruelty-free?
Cashmere is made from goats' wool coats and involves animal exploitation. It isn't the most ethical or sustainable fabric and has a disastrous impact on the environment.
Goats naturally produce the right amount of wool they need. They shed their winter coat before spring in natural environments, like many other animals, including sheep.
However, profits often come first before animal welfare in many industries, including textile and fashion. And most Cashmere goats are sheared at the wrong time of the year to make wool.
Cashmere is considered a luxury and one of the finest fibers in the fashion world. But the fashion industry is responsible for the exploitation, farming, and skinning of billions of animals every year.
Wool production is very exploitative and cruel. Billions of animals live in poor conditions to make the clothes we wear. They suffer inhumane treatment to produce Cashmere and wool.
Cashmere is still widely used in the textile and apparel industry today. Many clothing designers and brands use Cashmere to make jackets, coats, pullovers, jumpers, cardigans, loungewear, and accessories.
Thankfully, more people are asking for ethical and environmentally friendly clothing. They are concerned with the compassionate treatment of animals.
To answer the increasing demand for cruelty-free products, brands and retailers release eco-friendly collections and make more cruelty-free and vegan options available worldwide.
Animal products, including Cashmere, should be avoided because the industrial farming of animals is unethical, environmentally damaging, and unsustainable. Here is why.
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What is Cashmere?
Cashmere is a textile fiber that comes from Cashmere goats. There are many breeds of goats that produce Cashmere. And it has been used to make yarn, textile, and clothes for hundreds of years.
The term cashmere comes from the anglicization of the Kashmir shawl, the predecessor of the contemporary cashmere shawl. It arrived in Britain in the late 18th century, then France, and became a luxury and status symbol.
Cashmere is an animal-derived material similar to wool widely used in the textile and apparel industry. Cashmere is warm, soft, smooth, breathable, strong, durable, and highly resistant.
Cashmere is often used in the fashion industry to make comfortably warm clothing, such as socks, gloves, leggings, hats, scarves, pajamas, knitwear, and outerwear.
How is Cashmere made?
Cashmere comes from animals, cashmere goats. This type of goat produces cashmere wool, the goat's winter undercoat that grows to maximum length by mid-winter and sheds in early spring.
China has the highest population of cashmere goats and is the largest producer of cashmere wool. Mongolia is the second largest, and the two countries contribute to about 85% of the world's supply. The goats' name originates from the Himalayan region of Kashmir.
Similarly to sheep, goats don't need shearing, contrary to popular belief. They don't like any shearing at all. It's simple to understand because they naturally shed their winter coat at the right time of the year.
However, for the textile and fashion industry, profits often come first. Manufacturers very rarely consider the welfare of animals. So most cashmere goats are sheared too soon and too often.
Is Cashmere ethical?
Cashmere is an animal product and isn't ethical since it comes from goats' winter coats and involves animal exploitation, cruelty, stress, injuries, and diseases more often than not.
Goats have a nervous system and can suffer and feel pain. They want to live harm-free and stress-free as they would do in nature. They shouldn't be exploited and subjected to inhumane treatment.
Cashmere goats live in crowded conditions and must walk very long distances. They will often die from dehydration, infection, starvation, or injury.
Animals suffer immense pain, being castrated, dying prematurely from exhaustion, exposure to the cold, disease, lack of shelter, or neglect. And animals who don't produce enough wool or poor quality wool are destined to be slaughtered.
No animal should suffer to make beautiful, stylish, and affordable clothing. Animal cruelty has no place in modern societies. Life in every form is more valuable than things.
Should you wear Cashmere?
It's best to avoid all harm and exploitation of animals, including Cashmere goats, because it's cruel and unnecessary. All animals have the right to live free of exploitation and suffering. Cashmere isn't an ethical fabric. It's a natural and luxurious fabric, but it's harmful and unsustainable.
Goats are perfectly capable of surviving in the wild. Wool farming has to stop and let wild goats repopulate their natural habitats and live peacefully.
Many people exploit goats to make money. Cashmere goats are bred, enslaved, and slaughtered to create luxury products.
Most Cashmere production takes place in animal farms where goats live indoors for a large part of the year. The industry is well-known for many cases of unhealthy livestock and child labor.
Under pressure from consumers and animal rights organizations like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), many fashion brands and retailers abandon the use of animal products, including Cashmere and wool, for their new collections and choose better alternatives.
Is Cashmere eco-friendly?
Cashmere is a natural fiber, bio-based, biodegradable, and recyclable, but it has a high environmental impact. The farming and processing of Cashmere pollute the air, soil, and water, producing greenhouse gases and wastes.
Large-scale, intensive animal farming and fast fashion practices deplete resources and release gases into the atmosphere at a high rate. They use synthetic chemicals to make the land and animals more productive.
Farming practices like intensive grazing and high stocking density are widespread and fundamentally unsustainable. Farmers regularly use chemicals for worm and disease control.
Hazardous chemicals pollute air, soil, and water, endangering human health and ecosystems. Wastewater is highly polluting and contains residual pesticides and insecticides.
Goat digestion produces methane as a by-product. And of all the greenhouse gases, methane is one of the most potent because of its ability to absorb heat in Earth's atmosphere.
Over 20 years, one kilogram of methane warms the planet as much as 80 times more than one kilogram of carbon dioxide. One goat can produce about 30 liters of methane each day.
Wool has the fifth most harmful environmental impact among all materials used for textiles. It's even worse than manufactured fibers, such as polyester, acrylic, and nylon.
Are there better alternatives to Cashmere?
The better alternatives to Cashmere are more sustainable and cruelty-free. They are eco-friendly, vegan, and ethically made from organic or recycled fibers. They are also comfortable, lightweight, breathable, durable, and luxurious.
Choose vegan textiles that don't involve animal exploitation and are better for your skin and the planet. There are many eco-friendly and cruelty-free vegan options for beautiful fashion.
Some ethical and vegan fabrics to wear instead of Cashmere include organic cotton, linen, hemp, and lyocell. Many sustainable clothing brands choose to avoid textile fibers obtained from animals. They use these eco-friendly alternatives to wool.
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About the Author: Alex Assoune
Alex Assoune (MS) is a global health and environmental advocate. He founded Panaprium to inspire others with conscious living, ethical, and sustainable fashion. Alex has worked in many countries to address social and environmental issues. He speaks three languages and holds two Master of Science degrees in Engineering from SIGMA and IFPEN schools.