Himalayas To The Highlands: The Origin Story Of Cashmere
Cashmere takes its place in the premier league of fabrics: soft and sumptuous, durable yet delicate. It’s no surprise that it has been highly prized as a material for items such as ladies luxury scarves for centuries. Here’s a look at the origins of cashmere weaving and trading.
The Himalayan connection
The story begins high in the mountainous Himalayan region of Asia, where the native breeds of goat have roamed for centuries. It is a common misconception that there is just one specific breed of goat that produces cashmere, although the most highly prized breed is the Changthangi or Changpa.
The goats developed special coats with very soft fine insulating under hairs to keep them warm during the extreme cold winters, and it is these fibres that are harvested to make cashmere. The hairs are many times finer than human hair, which gives garments an incredibly soft and lightweight quality.
Along the Silk Road
Cashmere became a prized material as shawls woven by Kashmiri craftsmen were traded along the Silk Road from remote Asian regions. By the 18th century, cashmere had reached Europe and demand grew for this sumptuous yet cosy and breathable fabric, which commanded high prices.
The role of Scotland
Scotland has a long and proud history of producing some of the finest quality cashmere in the world. At first glance, there may not seem to be much connection between the remote Asian regions of Inner Mongolia and the northern European country.
However, the high mountains of Scotland with long cold winters and milder summers have proved to be well suited to cashmere-producing breeds of goat, which were first introduced to the region in the 18th century.
Scotland already had a highly skilled textile workforce when the goats were first introduced in the eighteenth century, and mill owners quickly adapted their techniques to produce excellent quality cashmere.
The pure clean water that ran from the high mountains was ideal for processing the delicate fibres, which become harsh if they are washed in water with more pollutants.
Cashmere or pashmina?
The terms cashmere and pashmina are often used interchangeably, but there are some slight differences between them. As we have seen, cashmere is harvested from goats of a specific geographical region, rather than a specific breed of goat.
Pashmina is a type of cashmere fibre that is obtained from the The Changthangi or Changpa goat, and is of the very finest quality. This is because they have evolved in the most extreme climates, and developed the finest and most insulating undercoats to keep them warm during the harsh winter conditions.
Because pashmina is so exquisitely fine and delicate, it’s often weaved by hand rather than by an automated process, used to produce scarves and shawls rather than other types of garment. This means that they are usually in a higher price bracket than other types of fabric, but the beautiful softness and lightweight warmth can be well worth the investment.