The Process of Cashmere
In theory any animal can produce cashmere grade hair, but climatic conditions seem to have a very important impact. It is for this reason that we find the finest grades of Cashmere located in extremely cold high altitude climates such as Mongolia. The goats naturally produce two layers of hair for themselves, an outer courser layer, and a softer under layer (under down). It is this inner layer which is most prized and between May to June carefully hand combed from the animals before being washed of dirt and sent off to market. The very finest hairs are found under the nape of the neck and the herder can take up to 3 days extracting the precious material from a single goat. The longer hair is then removed shortly afterwards.
At this stage all work is carried out by hand in Mongolia as it requires a skilled touch and patience, with only 150g or so of underdown being extracted per goat. This means that a single jumper can require the hair of up to 3 goats. China in comparison to Mongolia clips its animals by machine from the start and sorts the grades of hair later. To connoisseurs in the know, this mechanisation caused a coarser end result.
Once the hair has been collected it is sold at market to middlemen who transport it to the capital or borders where it is either processed and woven locally or sent overseas for processing. Like other yarns cashmere can be died a wide range of colours to suit, but by undergoing this treatment, some of the important softness is lost. Therefore if you want the very softest items around, the natural undyed colours are the best.