THE STORY OF OUR CASHMERE
JUST WHAT IS IT THAT MAKES CASHMERE SO LUXURIOUS, STYLISH AND TIMELESS? HERE, WE UNRAVEL THE STORY BEHIND WHERE OURS COMES FROM...
John Lewis & Partners’ own-brand cashmere story starts on the other side of the world, in the region stretching from northern China into Mongolia. The harsh and unforgiving winters in the high plateaus of these areas are just right for the special type of goats from which our cashmere fibre is collected. Here, temperatures can drop to -40°C. The goats survive the season by growing an extra-fine coat underneath their weather-resistant guard hair – this is where the cashmere comes from. The cold climate and hearty lifestyle of the animals produce the longest, finest, softest fibres: some of the best cashmere in the world.
In the spring, as the goats start to naturally shed their winter coats, their fine underhair is carefully removed. These fibres can only be collected once a year, with a limited amount available from each goat. Within our supply chain, a combination of hand-combing and shearing techniques are used. The herders always select the most appropriate method for the circumstances. In Mongolia this tends to be hand-combing and in China it’s often shearing. A single cashmere jumper requires the fibre of about four goats (whereas one sheep produces enough fibre to make five wool jumpers).
“NOT ALL CASHMERE IS EQUAL – WE ARE COMMITTED TO HAVING THE MOST SUSTAINABLE AND TRACEABLE CASHMERE ON THE MARKET”
For our herders, their livestock is their livelihood, so it’s important that the goats are well cared for. Not only that, but happy goats have healthier undercoats. As a responsible retailer, we choose our suppliers very carefully and are committed to ensuring high standards of animal welfare. We’re proud to work with the suppliers to ensure the herders have the right support to ensure these unique animals continue to thrive.
It’s important our communities are paid a fair price for their fibre. We work closely with suppliers who have been in the cashmere industry for years, so they’re real experts. We only work with suppliers who buy their fibre directly from the herders and purchase 100% of their yield. This guarantees them a reliable income – and our suppliers a reliable supply of quality fibre.
We care about how we make our products, the materials we use and the people who make them. We care about the environment too, and are working hard to create a more sustainable system for cashmere production. Our herders are given training in animal welfare practices and land management to help avoid overgrazing and desertification of the grasslands. This also means the goats get to live on healthier land, ultimately improving the quality of the fibre and meaning the herders are more likely to get a better price. And because we select suppliers who work directly with herders, it helps us to ensure that care and attention is given all the way from the goat to the finished garment.
We’re a pioneering member of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance (SFA) – a non-profit UK-based organisation working across the extended cashmere supply chain. Our commitment is to work with the SFA to develop a best practice standard and to work more collaboratively with our peers to ensure we can have a wider and more lasting impact on the industry.
We only work with suppliers we trust, so we can trace every step of our cashmere supply chain. This means we know we’re getting the very best cashmere fibre and creating the highest quality products for you.
It’s a lengthy, laborious process. First, the fibre is skillfully sorted by hand. Only the longest, finest fibres are selected. Whiter cashmere fibres need less processing to dye and so stay softer. Cashmere’s softness comes from the fact that its fibres are very fine – around four times finer than a human hair. After careful cleaning, the fibres are combed so they run in the same direction and any remaining impurities are removed.
Using the longest, finest cashmere fibres, our specialist cashmere spinners use their extensive expertise to twist a finer, softer, more rounded yarn, giving a deeper colour when dyed. We blend three to four different hues to make just one colour, ensuring each shade has a richness to it.
The yarn is knitted into garment panels, which are then linked, or the whole garment is knitted in one go. Every tiny detail is considered, from the fashionings around the armhole, to which of our four weights or gauges is used to achieve the best, most luxurious feel. Throughout the process, regular tests are carried out, from checking the fibre diameter to the consistency of the yarn, through to final quality checks on the finished product.
A cashmere piece should be something you treasure. Created from carefully raised herds, using only the best quality fibre, resulting in something you can keep for years. We believe quality and value is about so much more than durability and price. Our teams take the time to craft our products, and every detail is carefully considered. So you can rest easy in the knowledge you’re buying a quality piece, with a considered, conscious supply chain behind it. That’s what we call an investment item.
Meet our Partners: Martyn White, Partner & Senior Sustainability Manager; Katharine Ball, Partner & Category Technical Manager; Karen Perry, Partner & Sustainability Manager, Raw Materials