- Researcher encourages innovative ideas using cashmere –
As a Professor of the School of Industrial Technology, D. Enkhtuya, gave an exclusive interview with The UB Post. Since 1981, she has conducted extensive studies on cashmere production, de-hairing technology, the usage of cashmere and its health properties.
Cashmere is one of the most sought-out fibers in the world. What makes it such an expensive and luxurious commodity?
Let me first talk about fibers. Fiber is divided into two categories – natural and chemical. Of all the fibers in the world, wool and cashmere account for only one percent. Furthermore, cashmere makes up merely 0.001 percent of that amount making it an incredibly scarce fiber.
Secondly, goats produce premium cashmere fibers only in Mongolia and Inner Mongolia. Historic accounts show that many Asian and European countries relocated these goats several times in attempts to produce top-grade cashmere. However, the goats stopped producing cashmere fibers after being moved to a warmer climate. Only in select cold climate countries like Mongolia is it possible for fine cashmere to be produced.
More importantly, cashmere requires a lot of time and effort. A herder takes care of a goat year-round only to obtain 50 to 400 grams of fine undercoat. In the end, only 30 percent of this fiber is turned into thread after undergoing washing, dehairing, and spinning. The technology for making cashmere thread is very complex making the whole process laborious for both herders and producers.
Mongolia is known as “The Land of Soft Gold”. What makes their cashmere so special?
Each country has its own standards for cashmere. However, Mongolian cashmere is known to exceed expectations. With pure cashmere fibers ranging from a diameter of 13 to 14 microns, it is considered to be the finest. They are called Khaan Shirhegt, or King Fiber, which stands out as top-quality cashmere.
Mongolian cashmere fibers are thin and flexible allowing it to quickly revert to its original form after being distressed or folded. Its long length is a crucial quality for spinning into yarn and thread and making it less likely to cause pilling.
Does harvesting cashmere harm goats?
No. Herders only hand-comb the fleece when it’s ready to shed. Once winter passes, cashmere goats naturally shed its fleece in the spring months to live more comfortably during the warmer seasons. As new fleece grows, it pushes the old fibers out causing natural shed hairs ready to be combed.
How does the traditional knowledge of Mongolian herders help goats?
An English magazine complimented the technique of Mongolian herders and reported them to be the best producers of cashmere. Centuries of knowledge led herders to sense when their goats start feeling uncomfortable. With thicker fleece, it gets difficult for goats and sheep to eat and move around during the spring and summer.
To help cashmere goats continue to grow healthy, high-quality cashmere for the following years, herders comb by hand. First, they use a large comb to gently untangle the fleece. A wooden comb and a very thin comb for dehairing is later used.
This is a traditional dehairing method, as well as an animal husbandry custom used since a long time ago in Mongolia. Mongolians always strive to create comfortable and favorable living conditions for their livestock as they deeply care and depend on animals.
What are the health benefits of cashmere?
Cashmere contains keratin which is considered to have properties healthiest to humans. Since cashmere is collected from a living animal, it is suitable for providing high quality comfort for the wearer.
A study tested the effects of synthetic, cotton and cashmere clothes on a dog for a year. Certain areas that wore cotton or cashmere clothes grew normal fur whereas areas under a synthetic layer grew less. This shows the advantage of using breathable clothes.
Additionally, cashmere absorbs sweat. During winter, your sweat is absorbed to produce heat and creates a microclimate between the clothing and the skin. In this small space, the temperature and humidity are maintained to ensure comfort. Cashmere is able to produce 27 calories of heat from one gram per cubic meter of humidity.
It also insulates from both external heat and cold. Since ancient times, Mongolians have worn shoes made out of felt despite the intense summer heat. Not only did it protect the wearer from the cold, but also from overheating.
In the past, cashmere clothes were considered luxurious items and worn for special occasions only. Nowadays, cashmere is used to make sportswear because it is very light, comfortable, breathable, light-colored, and soft. More and more casual clothes are being made with cashmere so that it can be worn on a daily basis.
Nowadays, cashmere clothes are made in all kinds of colors. Is it harmful in any way?
One of the many advantages of cashmere is that it quickly absorbs color so it’s easy to dye. In other words, once it has been dyed, it will keep its color. Moreover, as cashmere is a valuable material, local producers use the most globally acclaimed dyes to prevent triggering any allergies. Cashmere clothes can also come in organic colors thanks to the four natural colors Mongolian goats produce.
Gobi Corporation has joined the Sustainable Fibre Alliance to support the production of sustainable cashmere. What are your thoughts on this?
We need to approach sustainable cashmere production from a wide perspective. It requires making sure goats don’t cause permanent damage to the environment, sustainable grazing, and eco-friendly factories. Eco-friendly industrial solutions enable consuming less energy, the reusing and reducing of water, and so on.
People need to avoid producing bad-quality products which are just a waste of energy, time and resources. These things will have positive outcomes for the economic, agricultural and environmental sectors.
What is your opinion regarding the stereotype of cashmere being solely for the older, wealthier generations? Could cashmere be suitable for other age groups?
I think it has changed. More and more people are leaning toward eco-friendly solutions. Cashmere clothes are a great way for people to be eco-friendly while being comfortable. It’s difficult to throw away nylon clothes since they are harmful to the environment, however, cashmere clothes are more sustainable.
Instead of purchasing 10 or 12 synthetic clothes, it is better to invest in one or two expensive cashmere garments. It will last you for a longer time and is healthier for your body. Just like we need to consume eco-friendly food, people need to use eco-friendly clothes.
One of the studies we’re conducting right now is aimed at creating next-to-skin clothing with cashmere. Synthetic and cotton yarns are widely used for this type of clothing. However, considering the advantages and health properties of cashmere, introducing this material for next-to-skin clothing is ideal. This type of clothing will be highly suitable for the elderly, sick and children.
Lastly, do you have anything else you want to say to our readers?>
On top of eating healthily, please make sure to wear healthy and good-quality clothes. You need to start avoiding buying synthetic clothes and opt for cotton, woolen or cashmere clothes.
A study showed that premature babies covered in animal fur grew faster when compared to being in an incubator. Another study tested synthetic blankets against woolen blankets. It found that sleeping with a synthetic blanket made people feel uncomfortable and sweaty. Whereas, with a woolen blanket it was much more breathable and ensured a more comfortable environment.
I'd like for young people to come up with more innovative ways to incorporate high-quality cashmere into their daily lives. For example, a growing number of people are starting to work from home. So why not make a seat cover made from cashmere or a cashmere cup handle?
Studies suggest that feeling some kind of warmth is good for people and make them happy. Someone even made big doll-like figures and covered it in cashmere to lean on or hug in their sleep. This apparently helps you feel warmer and less lonely, especially the elderly who live alone.
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