Cashmere is hair that is shorn from cashmere goats underbellies. These goats are often kept on where they are dehorned and castrated and have their ears notched without anesthesia. Goats with defects in their coats are typically killed before the age of 2. Industry experts expect to kill 50 to 80 percent of young goats whose coats do not meet standards. Shearing robs goats of their natural insulation, leaving them vulnerable to cold temperatures and illnesses.
Many goats are sold to be slaughtered for their flesh after shearing. The majority of the world's cashmere today comes from China and Mongolia, where the goats are raised in the Gobi Desert. These goats are bred specifically for their extremely soft, pale hair, which can be dyed to any color, and are therefore highly sought after. The harsh conditions in the Gobi Desert severely restrict the number of goats that can be raised, however, meaning that the hand harvested and often hand-spun fiber commands a high price when it reaches the market: and this is before the notoriously difficult yarn has been knitted or woven.
Cashmere is often woven into two-ply yarn, which is a superior form of yarn, but also twice as expensive because it involves two strands. When a single strand of yarn is used, the twist in the yarn created as it is spun can pull at a sweater, changing the shape over time: two ply yarn uses two strands going in opposite directions to eliminate a bias in the weave or knit.
Because cashmere is so expensive and labor intensive to produce, it must be taken care of appropriately. The material is highly durable and will last for years if cared for properly. It should always be washed by hand in warm water with mild soap, and blotted gently with a towel before laying it out flat to dry. Individuals who own cashmere garments should appreciate the effort that goes into making them; it would take a single goat four years to produce enough wool for a sweater, and producing one also involves countless hours of labor to raise, feed, and care for the unique animal.