February 22, 2024

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The inconvenient hidden costs behind soaring prices for cheap cashmere: NPR

The inconvenient hidden costs behind soaring prices for cheap cashmere: NPR

The goats that provide the cashmere fiber graze on the foliage.

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The goats that provide the cashmere fiber graze on the foliage.

Finbar Webster/Getty Images

Coveted materials known for their luxurious softness have become more accessible and affordable in recent years. But at what cost?

who are they? Well, the loggers who provide the goods are cashmere goats, many of whom live in parts of Central Asia, such as northern China and Mongolia.

  • Cashmere goats graze, roam and live their lives, their underhair sheared, harvested, sold and processed, then spun into the fiber from which cashmere sweaters are made.
  • These jackets are then purchased by ordinary consumers who want to partake in the wearing of the known soft fabric.

“Haha they said they send our fibers to the J. Crew factory?”

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“Haha they said they send our fibers to the J. Crew factory?”

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What is the big deal? Like many other trends in fashion and accessibility, sourcing cashmere used to require more investment. Nowadays, you can get it at a much cheaper price. But there are hidden costs elsewhere, says Ginger Allington, a landscape ecologist and assistant professor at Cornell University.

  • Allington’s research has shown that in recent years, the sheer number of goats used to make cashmere sweaters has increased significantly, partly due to increased demand.
  • As a result, there has been degradation of the habitat in which they live and graze, resulting in lower quality fiber from goats that fetch less money in the market.
  • To compensate, Allington says some herders have increased their herd sizes to produce more to compensate for the lower cost, and the vicious cycle is repeated.
  • The result is environmental degradation and poor quality clothing, but all most consumers see are lower prices.
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Want more about Consumer Reports? Listen to Consider this Think How much do Americans spend?.

What do people say? Allington He wrote an editorial for New York times About the real cost of cashmere. I spoke with All things considered Host Mary Louise Kelly to explain what consumers may not know when purchasing cashmere goods.

I have witnessed habitat degradation firsthand:

We see a huge change in the pastures [the Central Asian steppes]. There is much less vegetation and more vulnerable soil, especially in areas with a large increase in livestock.

To be clear, goats have been raised in this area for a long time as well, but there are a lot more of them than there used to be. Goats are much more efficient browsers and grazers than some of the other livestock traditionally raised in this region. They can really remove a lot of plants right down to the roots. This leads to further deterioration of the system.

On whether the current rate of cashmere consumption is sustainable:

Honestly, I don’t know that there is a way to sustainably produce cashmere at the volume we consume it today.

I believe that demand should decrease for this specific fiber so that herders can produce less of it and of higher quality. This must then be balanced by increased demand for other fibers as well. You can produce wonderful products from camels, yak and sheep.

So what now?

  • Allington says there are ways to do your part, like wearing other fibers, or going the old-fashioned route.
  • “A lot of the old, used cashmere you can buy on eBay and from thrift stores – it’s likely to be a much higher quality sweater that will last a lot longer. If you pay $50 for a sweater, you’ll get what you pay for, you’ll end up To need to buy another one next year. This perpetuates the cycle.”
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Michael Levitt, Justine Keenen and Mary Louise Kelly contributed to this report.