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Cashmere experts contest "unsustainable" production claims

Author: Andrew McEwen | 3 November 2011 in Just-Style

Cashmere experts have attacked claims that their industry is unsustainable and responsible for desertification in Inner Mongolia and independent Mongolia.

Speaking at the fourth annual Cashmere World trade show in Beijing, Dr Carol Kerven, director of the UK-based Odessa Centre and a Central Asia cashmere researcher, asserted that widely believed international and Chinese media reports had little reliable evidence that the grasslands of Mongolia and Inner Mongolia were dying due to overgrazing by cashmere goats - perhaps feeding off official prejudices that place goats at the bottom end of the livestock hierarchy, somewhere behind yaks, cattle, horses and camels.

Inner Mongolian desertification is almost certainly not entirely driven by goats, she told assembled media and experts.

Instead, it is more likely to be due to a combination of more complex factors, most notably policies to settle the nomads who raise cashmere goats, and annual changes in rainfall. And – if overgraising animals must be blamed – then as there were more sheep and cattle in Mongolia, these would make better scapegoats.

“If one looks for the scientific literature on this subject, there are virtually no articles published in international peer-reviewed journals,” Kerven said.

“That doesn’t stop many agencies from assuming that there is an environmental disaster caused by livestock and especially cashmere goats. I prefer to rely on the actual evidence, which is very boring.”

Also proudly defying conventional market wisdom with its emphasis on location, location, location was Nora Kravis, creator and founder of Italy-based Chianti Cashmere in Italy.

She boasted about the quality of cashmere derived from her individually named and tagged goats, referring to 15 years of scientific herd selection involving nanotechnology and artificial insemination that have fast-tracked fibre quality from an initial average of 20 microns to a baseline of 15 microns today.

"You can produce good quality fibre outside of Asia," Kravis said. "It's a fallacy that it cannot be done." The most important influence on quality of fibre is genetics, Kravis asserted: "Ninety per cent, followed by climate and environment," she told cashmere industry experts.

In fact, altitude and temperature are largely irrelevant in creating quality, Kravis told cashmere buyers, producers and media.

This year Kravis has taken it upon herself to measure crimp as a personal cashmere standard, something not normally included by industry watchdogs in their assessments of fibre quality. Also, working with other researchers, she plans to test her theory that nutrition contributes significantly to the tensile strength of the fibre.

Meanwhile, another specialist developing yak fibres stressed that fine cashmere-style fibres did not have to be harvested from goats. "In Italy we talk about 'la mano,'" Andrea Dominici, CEO of the Terre Nomadiche, told just-style. "When you touch the product and when I show it to experts, that feeling, the touch, is not all in the micron."

Talking about his 17.5-micron Tibetan yak calf fibre business based in Italy and China, the veterinarian entrepreneur took pride in the genuine luxury of his product, de-haired by herders in the Qinghai autonomous region and woven by craftsmen at Biella, in northern Italy.

"There is no difference at the microscopic level between yak and Afghan [goat] cashmere," he said.

The key issue was being honest and open about which animals are being used - because consumers cannot necessarily tell by touch, and illicit use of yak fibre could undermine confidence in standard cashmere. "This is a big problem because previously yak was used to make fake cashmere," he noted.




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