Is Cashmere Vegan? Are There More Sustainable Alternatives?

Cashmere is one of the most luxurious fabrics your clothes for cold seasons could ever come in. It is soft, light, and incredibly rich to the touch, so it isn’t surprising that it’s one of the most sought-after fabrics in the world.

Making cashmere is a laborious process involving expertise, care, and time.

But behind it all, cashmere isn’t a fabric with minimal impact on our environment and animals. There have been many questions raised regarding the ethical treatment of animals and whether cashmere is a fabric we want to buy from an ethics and sustainability point of view.

With that, let’s go into all that you need to know to determine whether cashmere is vegan or not.

The Essence Of Veganism

Before we get into all the small details of cashmere, we have to tackle veganism first.

Despite its rising popularity, so many consumers are still are confused about what it means for a product to be vegan. Many confuse veganism with vegetarianism, which is not at all the case.

At its core, veganism is an ideology that promotes the nonuse of animals in any of our products. As such, vegans do not consume any animal or animal by-products.

veganism
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This means no wool, no leather, no honey, no eggs, among many other animal-derived materials or components.

It’s as easy as that. However, the more difficult part is determining if a particular item fits under the umbrella of vegan products. Such is the case with cashmere. If it’s as easy as we explained, why is there so much confusion on whether a particular fabric is vegan or not?

Most of the confusion stems from the fact that cashmere goats don’t have to die in making cashmere products. Goat herds will survive even if their undercoat is combed or shorn from their bodies.

This leads many people to conclude that mass-producing cashmere doesn’t harm animals. The common idea is that it isn’t animal cruelty since the animal doesn’t die in the process.

However, this is a grave misconception. What matters most in veganism is that absolutely no animal or animal components are involved in making a particular product. So long as that condition is fulfilled, a fabric can be considered fully vegan.

Lastly, vegans more often than not adhere to this way of living because it seeks to exclude all cruelty to – and all forms of exploitation of – animals. It is important to take that aspect into account as well.

What Is Cashmere?

Cashmere is one of the most highly regarded fabrics there is. Considered as a high-end, luxury fabric, cashmere has retained its luxury status throughout its centuries of existence.

First used centuries ago as a popular fabric among royalty and affluent individuals, cashmere continues to be a top choice for luxury winter textiles.

However, despite its popularity and quality, cashmere isn’t all it’s made out to be.

Where Does Cashmere Come From?

Contrary to what some may think, cashmere is not made from sheep, and many seem to confuse it with wool, a fabric commonly used for winter clothing. While cashmere is technically a woolen fabric, it comes from goats, not sheep.

Typically, cashmere can be found and sourced from any goat [1]. However, the best ones come from the Kashmir goat or “cashmere goat,” a nomadic species typically found in select Asian regions. Some of the most popular areas are Mongolia, Afghanistan, Iran, Tibet, and Northern India.

If we’re talking specifics, cashmere actually refers to the goat’s undercoat, which is a soft, down-like material. Their coats protect them from the cold stress of the winter months.

Although this can be taken from any goat, cashmere goats are specifically selected for the quality of their undercoat and how well their coat can be made into fabric.

How Is Cashmere Made?

Cashmere is made by combing out the hairs during the molting season. While the peak growth comes in mid-winter (when it is coldest), combing only begins at the beginning of spring, right when the goat starts to shed its hair naturally. Some forms of cashmere may be shorn or plucked from the goat, although these tend to be lower-quality materials.

These fibers are then processed further—cleansed to remove any impurities and dehaired to remove any guard hair that may have mixed with the undercoat. This process reduces the amount of cashmere produced by up to 50%[2]. Post-processing is a vital determinant in cashmere’s quality and make.

Although you can never get cashmere at a cheap price point, cashmere fabric with more guard hairs left after processing often comes at a lower cost. On the flip side, cashmere with a very low percentage of coarse hair is much pricier.

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Part of the reason cashmere is so expensive is that the fine hairs are combed from a goat’s undercoat in incredibly small quantities. Those cashmere jumpers take around 4-6 goats’ worth of hair to make a piece. Compounded by the demand for cashmere, you can only imagine how many goats it takes to fulfill the global cashmere quota.

Going back to the manufacturing process, the combed fibers are then dyed to the desired colors. Once dyed, the cashmere fibers often end up matted, so the next step is teasing to loosen and open up the fibers.

High-quality cashmere must also be colored using high-quality dyes.

Once this is done, the fibers are then run through a carding machine, which turns them into thin sheets of fibers called rovings. From there, the yarn is spun and then woven into the desired weave, ready for finishing.

Variations of the process may occur here and there, but the process is quite similar to what we just described.

Is Cashmere Vegan?

From our extensive discussion on cashmere, it’s pretty evident that cashmere is not a vegan fabric. It is an animal by-product, which goes directly against the tenets of veganism.

Although cashmere goats survive the combing process, cashmere is still an animal fibre, and nothing will change that.

If you like to wear cashmere but are interested in going vegan, you’ll have to stop buying the fabric and look for other cruelty-free and non-animal alternatives. We’ll discuss some of these below.

However, if you already have cashmere in your closet, don’t let them go to waste. And if you are no longer comfortable wearing those pieces, it might be best to give them away. For some pointers, you might want to read our beginner’s guide on vegan fashion.

Is The Cashmere Industry Ethical And Cruelty-free?

Over the last few years, there have been reports of the unethical treatment of animals in the cashmere industry[3]. There are gruesome accounts of what is done to animals in some locations.

This has led many major fast fashion retailers like H&M to remove animal cashmere from their collections. PETA is also urging many more brands to ban cashmere from their collections.

While not all manufacturers may exact inhumane methods of sourcing the goat hair, it can be difficult to separate those that practice ethical means from those who don’t—especially considering the lack of transparency in the fashion industry.

As a simple conclusion, the cashmere industry is not cruelty-free until proven otherwise.

Is There An Alternative to Animal Cashmere?

Knowing the full impact of cashmere has probably inspired you to move away from the luxury fabric and look for more ethical options. Fortunately, although cashmere is such a highly coveted textile due to its quality and superior drape, it does have some vegan options.

Vegan Cashmere (Plant-based)

Vegan cashmere or vegetable cashmere is a viable cashmere alternative that has only recently entered the commercial market. There are a few iterations of vegetable cashmere in the fashion industry, such as soy cashmere and Weganwool.

To be clear, none of these fabrics are actually cashmere. However, they can be a decent option when you’re looking for an animal-friendly alternative to cashmere. These fabrics are similar to cashmere in terms of drape and quality, so you’re not really missing out on anything.

Let’s explore these options in more detail:

Soy-Based Cashmere (Vegetable Cashmere)

Some of you may be familiar with vegetable cashmere. It is a proprietary blend invented as a vegan alternative to animal cashmere, with the primary intention of a reduced environmental impact. Nearly two years ago, they released a Vegetable Cashmere athleisure collection from their Kickstarter campaign.

Created by David Lee, the founder of KD New York and a former dancer of the Oakland Ballet Company, vegetable cashmere is made from soy-based yarns! The best part is that the soybean fiber is made from by-products of the organic soy industry, essentially hitting two birds with one stone.

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But what about the garment’s entire lifecycle? Sadly, many vegan alternatives available today have high environmental costs and may still be terribly unsustainable. Fortunately, vegetable cashmere is plant-based and completely biodegradable!

Plus, this fabric is machine washable and does not require as much care as conventional cashmere.

Though no fabric can genuinely be considered perfectly sustainable, as so many factors determine sustainability, this one comes pretty close! Now you can buy “cashmere” without harm.

WEGANWOOL

Technically, WEGANWOOL was intended to be a wool alternative, with many of its qualities replicating those of wool. However, the fiber’s cellulose structure is closer to that of cashmere; thus, it can emulate cashmere’s soft and rich texture.

Made from regenerative wool and Calotropic fibers, WEGANWOOL is completely biodegradable! It is not processed with synthetics and is produced in a zero-waste process.

This all sounds pretty cool, right? But that’s not even the end of it.

Calotropis plants grow in the wild without any water or pesticides. This means the plants are very low-maintenance and do not require the resource expenditure that many of our most popular textiles do (cotton being the perfect resource-intensive example).

Plus, making WEGANWOOL is mainly done by hand, and the process provides a livelihood to women in the dry, rural parts of India, where employment is irregular and scarce. By buying clothes made from this fabric, you are also supporting local communities and protecting their environment.

The con, however, is that WEGANWOOL isn’t that easily accessible. Since it is made by a relatively small manufacturer (Faborg) in India, it isn’t always available for the items you want to buy. But interest in the fabric is increasing, and we’re looking forward to when it will become more widely available.

Synthetic Cashmere

Of course, there are also vegan alternatives to cashmere that aren’t plant-based. These options are less environmentally friendly, but they are still viable solutions, especially if you cannot get your hands on plant-based alternatives.

For instance, clothing brand Apparis partnered with PETA to produce a line of animal-free knitwear. These fabrics come close to cashmere but are, unfortunately, not plant-based.

Made from a blend of viscose, polyester, and polyamide, the fabric combines synthetic and semi-synthetic materials.

Here at Puratium, we always prefer plant-based options if there are ones available. But if you cannot get access to better options, know that there are synthetic options available, though they may not be our personal first choice.

Still, because you are purchasing synthetics, we highly encourage you to buy from a reputable brand with positive sustainability measures. And as always, take good care of your fabrics to make them last longer.

Final Thoughts

So, is cashmere vegan and ethical? Hardly. Although the cashmere industry isn’t as extreme as those profiting off of animal skin (i.e., the leather industry), it can still be damaging to animals and the environment.

Cashmere is soft, luxurious, and in very high demand, but it’s not a fabric we would recommend in good conscience. Its effects on vulnerable animals like young goats and other species are just too much to be considered ethical.

Resources:

  1. https://cashmeregoatassociation.org/post.php?pid=3#:~:text=%22Cashmere%20comes%20from%20goats%3F!%22&text=Cashmere%20is%20the%20goat’s%20soft,produce%20it%20in%20significant%20amounts.
  2. https://www.britannica.com/topic/cashmere
  3. https://investigations.peta.org/cashmere-cruelty-china-mongolia/
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