We are steadfast believers in creating good, clean, and fair clothing, that does not do harm to resources.
In Alashan, Inner Mongolia
The interesting thing is most vintage cashmere yarns are higher in quality than the new ones you can buy today. The reason is a quick lesson in Mongolian history and politics. (Note, all cashmere goats are from Mongolia. Scottish or Italian cashmere is Mongolian cashmere goat hairs imported into the respective countries for milling. The best of the best are from Inner Mongolia, which is Special Administrative Region to China -- separate to Mongolia, but landlocked next to each other).
In 1996, Mongolia's socialist government ended its 70 year run. With the end of the commune system, families were suddenly reliant on their herds for new expenses that had previously been covered by the government, including medical bills, school fees, water, fertilizer and feed.
Indeed, with state-owned enterprises deregulated under the market economy, herders were now free of previous strict herd-size caps. Quantity quickly preceded over quality since herders get paid for cashmere by the kilo. In attempts to boost output, herders crossbreed fine-haired Cashmere goats with coarse-haired Angora goats. As a result, from 1990 to 2010, the cashmere goat population increased by 500%, jumping from 4 million to 20 million.
Change In Quality
Moreover, the Mongolian government began subsidizing cashmere output, and pays herders twice the amount to market prices. Now, herders have little incentive to maximize quality, just quantity. For example, herders are keeping their older male goats, which produce very coarse hairs, around instead of culling them. The cross-section of a herd, which used to be 4% male goats, has swelled to 25% male.
As a result, much more coarse hairs have been in the market. This is sadly why cashmere you buy today, even from top brands, is not as high quality your grandmother's. It would take a lot of time to reset the equilibrium and rebreed pure, fine-haired, goat herds.
Another reason we believe in conserving resources is there is a little known environmental impact with cashmere. Cashmere goats graze in open pastures, and are, in fact, not great for environmental preservation, and ecological sustainability.
The problem: goats eat by plucking out grass with roots, which stops pastures from growing back. (On the other hand, sheep graze just the tops of grass.)
Yet, herd sizes continue to increase, snowballing due to the political and economic changes noted above. "The cost of living increased for the herders, so they raised more livestock," said Hu Jingping, director of the Inner Mongolia Grassland Area Cooperation and Sustainable Development Research Center. "But the grasslands didn't get any bigger."
With more and more swelling herds, plus careless growth of other industries like mining, Mongolia's grasslands are rapidly eroding into dry, dusty desert. Direct links can point to how desertification therefore destroys nearby soybean fields, depletes arable land, and increases the frequent sandstorms and air pollution that engulf Inner Mongolia and China every Spring.
Furthermore, the rapid desertification impacts Mongolia's ecological cycle, such as native populations of endangered herbivores like ibex, saiga antelopes, chiru antelopes. The threat spreads along the food chain, to the carnivorous snow leopard population, and so forth. This is not good news for Mongolia's ecological cycle.
Yet, this is a complex issue. With daily livelihoods in mind, herders still need to uphold their income, designers still want to make cashmere clothing, consumers still want to enjoy the fiber's softness, brands still want to do grow business — a classic vicious cycle. Ex-post, what can we do?
For us at ply, we do things this way. First, we only choose to use regenerated, deadstock, or upcycled fibers over buying new resources. We've found this limiting factor pretty rewarding, as it sets tight limitations on color and material available -- so we have to get extra creative. The result: we reduce our environmental footprints and energy use for new yarn, one sweater at a time, while you get a creative new design.
Secondly, we knit everything fully-fashioned, rather than cut and sew fabric. This way, because we only knit what sleeves or waistbands we need, we significantly reduce cutting waste. For example, our pants create 30% less waste than a pair of denim jeans.
Thirdly, we are very rigorous with our production methods. Our family-owned manufacturing facilities are up to par with international rigorous criteria for sustainable excellence, validated against social, ethical and environmental standards. These principles include respectful fair labor, minimal waste of resources, use of organic energy sources and waste-disposal methods, friendly animal welfare, and positive contributions to the economic and social development of the community (phew, what a lot!).
Thank you for supporting our solution, as a upstream option for consumers who still enjoy cashmere: smarter, better cashmere with all of the above in mind, that looks and feels great too.