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Your Cashmere Sweater Is Turning Mongolia Into Desert



American’s love of cashmere has become tough on the planet.

First, a little background. Cashmere is one of the softest, warmest, and longest lasting materials on the market today. Cashmere fibers become softer as it is worn more. Cashmere is said to be eight times warmer than sheep’s wool, and about that many times softer.

Cashmere is also one of the most expensive fibers on the market today.

Cashmere originates from Kashmiri goats found in the Himalayas. Cashmere wool comes from the downy undercoat that grows on goats from midsummer to winter. The quality varies from goat to goat. The long hair on goats protects the cashmere down from the elements. It is removed each spring by shearing or gradual combing of the goat’s hair.

Goats produce about three to eight ounces of cashmere per year. The average single ply women’s sweater requires approximately ten ounces of wool, which is equivalent to about three or four goats. Yikes!

The quality of cashmere wool is measured by its length, texture, and the diameter of the fiber. The quality is affected by the climate, and nutrients that the goats consume. The climate and geography of Mongolia is especially suited for herding goats because they thrive in harsh dry mountainous climates. The highest quality of wool is found in these climates. Goats cannot grow the downy coats that produce cashmere in moderate climates.

A dramatic increase in cashmere demand has resulted in larger herd sizes on alpine grazeland that cannot withstand intensive grazing. Larger goat herds in sensitive terrain = extreme environmental stress.

Cashmere goats are tough on the fragile land. They:

  • Consume more than 10 percent of their body weight daily in roughage
  • Eat very close to the roots, destroying plants
  • Damage topsoil and grass root systems with their sharp hoofs
  • Yield per cashmere goat is also very low
  • World production of coarse cashmere about 15,000 to 20,000 tons—as little as 6,500 tons of “pure cashmere” after scouring and de-hairing

The result has been desertification of the Inner Mongolian region, causing increasingly severe and frequent dust storms in China that travel around the world.

Desertification from overgrazing is the largest environmental threat to the cashmere industry in Mongolia. Almost 30% of Mongolia’s territory has the conditions necessary for desertification to occur. About 13% of desertification is due to nature and the other 87% of desertification in Mongolia is caused by humans. Desertification has affected 30% of pasture lands in Mongolia. Pasture lands account for a total of 80% of Mongolia’s land mass. The population of goats is a problem because goats destroy grasslands and soil. These environmental problems are caused to a large extent by the very thing that Mongolians make their living by doing. Global demand will only worsen the problem because of the economic pressure to produce more.

The solution? Buy polyester fleece. Some of which is made from recycled soda bottles. It’s soft, warm, easy-care and doesn’t turn China into a desert.

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