To many outside the environmental movement, sustainable living looks a lot like ascetic self-denial. But many sustainable brands are working to change that image, offering stylish eco-cool products that prove low-impact living doesn’t have to mean wearing a hair shirt. At least not the uncomfortable kind. Among the latest sustainable designs for luxury goods are a gaggle of new vegan alternatives to cashmere.
Real cashmere is a type of woolen fabric made from the hair of specific breeds of goats rather than sheep. Cashmere is soft enough to wear against the skin without itching and so fine that it can be fashioned into thin, fitted garments unlike bulky wools. A single sweater requires the annual fleece of up to six goats, adding rarity to the list of characteristics that make cashmere a high-end luxury item.
Cashmere is named after the region where European merchants first encountered it – Kashmir in Central Asia. Today, most cashmere is produced in China, with Mongolia ranking far behind with 20% of production. Like other wools, cashmere is obtained by shearing or for better quality, combing. Neither of these processes kills the goat and both can be done without harm. However, cashmere is not necessarily a cruelty-free product and has serious environmental implications.
There is little or no animal welfare laws in China and Mongolia. Goats are slaughtered once the quality of their hair declines with age, living as little as a third of their natural lifespan. Rough handling is common and shearing can leave open wounds. A 2019 survey by PETA show that combing is not the spa-like grooming treatment that people imagine.
Yet, as animal products, cashmere is relatively humane. Cashmere goats live longer than many species of livestock. They are generally allowed to graze freely in their natural habitat. They are only combed or sheared once a year, usually in the spring when they shed naturally.
Although small-scale goat farming can be sustainable, the cashmere industry is not. In order to meet growing demand, herds have grown to unsustainable sizes. Overgrazing negatively impacts wildlife, damages soil and contributes to the desertification of dry grasslands where goats are raised.
Used and recycled cashmere (like Stella McCartney’s) Back.Back) are better choices. For new cashmere purchases, buyers can also look for cashmere that complies with the IWTO Specifications for Wool Sheep Welfare. In January 2020, the Trade by Aid Foundation launched The standard of good cashmerewhich covers the five freedoms of animal welfare as well as that of workers in the industry. Keringwhich supplies many luxury brands, and Naadam are two companies known for their attempts to produce cashmere in a more sustainable way. But as high demand is responsible for driving this product towards crueler and more unsustainable practices, even wealthy cashmere lovers should consider cashmere a rare luxury and look for alternatives for their wardrobe essentials. .
Many vegan fabrics aim to replicate the desirable qualities of cashmere. Although the exact properties of each alternative fabric vary, most vegan cashmeres can claim to equal the softness of cashmere, and for this reason are often marketed as an alternative to silk.
Bamboo-based cashmere is almost as expensive as quality cashmere, but it’s hypoallergenic, hand-washable, and apparently low-carbon. The brand attitude sells loungewear and bedding made from this material, while Kokun mix of real cashmere with bamboo for the sweaters.
Although marketing it as vegan cashmere is new, soy-based fabric is not. The leftover soy pulp from tofu production has been used to make a fabric that is soft, biodegradable, less lint than cashmere wool and machine washable. Soy has its own environmental impact, but using waste is always a plus. Brands that sell soy-based cashmere garments include K.D. New York and French society Lo Neel.
Calotropis is a type of milkweed that grows in Asia. A company called faborg uses fibers from the stems and pods of Calotropis. Blended with organic cotton, they make a cashmere-like fabric they call Weganool. They recycle the water from fiber processing to color the fabric with natural dyes. The first products made from Weganool are available from a company called Infantium Victoria.
Viscose (aka rayon) is made from cellulosic fibers. It can be mixed with polyester and polyamide, which are synthetic fibres, to create a cashmere-like knit. Unlike other vegan cashmere, this fabric will not be fully biodegradable and the synthetic components will increase the carbon impact of the product. But the mark Appear, which uses this blend, works closely with its factories to ensure fair labor standards; has strong waste reduction practices; and uses organic dyes. Luxury brand niLuu manufactures vegan loungewear using regenerated cellulose fiber cupro without any synthetics. Although the widely used Tencel and Lyocell branded fabrics are not marketed as an alternative to cashmere, they make very soft knits and are among the best choices for durable natural fibers.