A Cashmere Quality CheckCashmere comes in all price points now. But before you are tempted to save instead of splurge on this fine fabric, know that all cashmere is not created equal. Although it may be hard to tell the difference between the department-store and discount variety without a textile degree, any fine knitter will tell you it’s all a matter of microns. The finest cashmere is made from goat fiber measuring a mere 13 to 16 microns, about five times finer than human hair. Moreover, for the finest baby cashmere knitwear, “It takes the fiber from 19 animals to make just one medium-weight sweater,” says Pier Luigi Loro Piana, chairman of Loro Piana, the world’s largest cashmere supplier (sweaters shown above).
Other top cashmere makers such as Avon Celli, Gran Sasso, and Brunello Cucinelli, among others, spend months testing for fineness, color (the whiter, the better), and length (the longer, the stronger) to ensure the raw materials meet their rigid standards. Although they might not say so on the label, inferior cashmere knits are often mixed with wool, mohair, and other fibers to keep the price low. When shopping for cashmere, experts say it’s best to look for a consistent, tight weave and a butter-soft feel to the touch. But not too soft. The best cashmere knits soften with age; those that start out with a slippery surface can indicate over-processing of the fiber that may result in easy pilling.