Cashmere is the ultra-fine soft undercoat hair from the cashmere goat, used for the making of the luxury clothing material. The fiber is even finer than Merino wool and is therefore ideal for high-end soft fabrics like sweaters and scarves.
Cashmere goats originate from Kashmir (India-Pakistan frontier in the western Himalayas), however, there is no actual specific “cashmere goat” breed. Most goats produce the soft undercoat, but for cashmere production, only the breeds that grow very long wool are used. The cashmere wool is obtained by shearing or combing – with the latter being the traditional albeit labor-intensive way. The undercoat has to be separated from the upper hair and by combing the goats, rather than shearing them, it is possible to produce a very high valued product1. For the fiber to be defined as cashmere, there are special criteria set by the industry that vary from country to country in details. So, even though many goats have the undercoat, not all goat undercoat can be classified as cashmere.
Where is Cashmere Produced?
- The finest as well as the most expensive cashmere wool is produced in China, which accounts for more than 65% of the whole production. Along with Mongolia and Tibet, it attributes to over 90% of cashmere production. Smaller quantities are also produced in Afghanistan, Iran, and even Australia and New Zealand2, 3.Production has fallen by 10% during the past few years due to severe winter conditions. China is also attempting to control goat numbers because of overgrazing that causes desertification.
- Traditionally, as it is mostly the case in China and Mongolia, they harvest the cashmere by combing the goats in spring when they are molting or by collecting the molted fibers from the ground and nearby bushes. In other countries, like Iran and Australia, they normally just shear the animals2.
What Are the Welfare Concerns for Cashmere Goats?
Around 20,000 tons of cashmere is produced each year, and over a hundred million cashmere goats suffer greatly as part of this industry: painful shearing process, a negative or a non-existent human-animal relationship, overgrazing issues and neglected basic needs of the animal are just some of the problems that go hand in hand with the use of cashmere.
FOUR PAWS calls for...
Ban on the painful shearing procedures
During the sheering process, goats (who are natural prey animals) suffer severe distress being pinned down while shorn or combed. The animals are handled by humans but are not used to human contact or have only experienced negative interactions so far – including fear, distress and suffering. Quite often rough handling occurs, and the prolonged restraint of the animals is a big mental stressor for the animals that are natural prey animals. The restraint can also inflict physical pain to the animal due to their aversive reactions as well as distress to pregnant animals. Workers are time-constricted and are working quickly and carelessly, not providing any pain relief to the animals that are inevitably injured in the overtly rushed shearing process. Depending on weather conditions, animals may even die because of the cold as they do not have a layer of fat on them or the wool to protect them from cold and rain after the shearing/combing process4.
Improvement of the human-animal relationship
the goats should not be neglected and should not have only negative interactions with humans
- Neglect: Since goats are very tough animals that survive in various harsh environmental conditions, there is (possibly) the attitude that these animals can be kept with a low level of management. This leads to neglect and well-being problems with parasite infestation, becoming prey of wild animals, and lacking veterinary/health care in case of acute injury, disease, or calving difficulties. The neglect of the animals also worsens the already harsh winter conditions, as they are left on their own to fend against the scarce food and water sources.
- Poor human-animal interactions: In addition to neglect, no positive human-animal relationship may be established, which causes great shyness towards humans. Their handling when combing or shearing makes the very stressful situations for the animals even worse. This can result in the animals only experiencing negative interactions with humans and being treated just as a means of income.
Containment on the overgrazing issue
- Unlike sheep and other grazing animals, goats dig out and eat the roots along with the flowers with seeds, both needed for further growth of the plants on the steppe. This causes many environmental issues (desertification, soil erosion, higher temperatures) and conservation issues (native wildlife, like snow leopards and gazelles, being ill-equipped to live in new desert-like conditions5) along with problems concerning the animals themselves. As the animals eat more plants that can grow back naturally, herders have to compensate the lack of feed with buying additional fodder that is not an appropriate diet for the animals that need to browse for their food as a part of their natural behavior. Because of the higher temperatures, goats also produce a lesser quality wool as there is no need for them to grow that much of their undercoat to keep them warm in the winter6. All of this causes financial issues for the farmers, who in return, increase their herd numbers, resulting in an even bigger overgrazing problem. But not all farmers and herders compensate the lack of grazing material with fodder and that results in very poor nutrition available to the animal, resulting in high mortality rates. Desertification also means that there are less water sources available for the animals, along with a higher pressure for predation from other animals.
Higher standards during transport
Various abuses are known about the long-distance transport some animal have to endure, such as dehydration due to lack of water, diseases, and injuries to the animals due to rough handling, inappropriate bedding, and overloading of animals.
Higher standards during slaughter
The natural life-expectancy of a goat is ten years, but most goats in the cashmere industry are killed well before then, as soon as they are deemed no longer "profitable" and do not produce good quality wool, which can happen at a young age. The animals are then often slaughtered without prior stunning and after experiencing yet another poor human-animal interaction by being roughly handled.
Ban on painful mutilations
Like other farm animals, cashmere goats can be subject to painful mutilations. While not very often, as the farmers find use in the horns, they are occasionally dehorned anyway. This is usually done without any pain relief, which makes it completely unacceptable.
We Need More Compassion in Fashion!
To make more sustainable and animal-friendly choices, you could consider buying secondhand clothing and purchasing from places that benefit a charity or cause you care about. If you are buying brand new clothing, you can choose sustainable alternative textiles, which you can learn more about in our animal-friendly shopping guide.