The consequences of cashmere overconsumption

Eva Morletto

By Eva Morletto04 avril 2023

Cashmere overconsumption worldwide has been leading to an exponential growth of goat livestock, causing in turn a desertification of Mongolian steppes. The sector is endangered, and the pandemic has not helped. Our analysis.

The cashmere goat farms are mainly located in China and Mongolia as well as – to a lesser extent - in Iran and Afghanistan (Brunello Cucinelli)

Each winter, cashmere consumption explodes. While this material remains a luxury good, its mass trade is increasing. The growing demand for cashmere is related on one hand to the intrinsic qualities of this wool found in the Indian sub-continent which has been known since the 15th Century. Its softness, delicateness and resistance make it a very much sought-after asset. On the other hand, the wealthy middle class is growing worldwide and increases the cashmere demand.

Brunello Cucinelli is one of the leading luxury brands for quality cashmere (Brunello Cucinelli - Alice Pavesi / LUZphoto)

While the fabric is increasingly democratizing - one can today find cashmere sweaters in all fast fashion collections - internationally renowned brands such as Brunello Cucinelli, Loro Piana or the French brand Eric Bompard share the high-end cashmere market. But the cashmere market, just like beauty, also attracts great names of showbusiness. Brad Pitt founded his very high-end brand God’s True Cashmere (between 1,650 and 1,970 euros for a shirt or a sweater) in collaboration with the designer Sat Hari, first confidentially in Los Angeles and now launched internationally. The American model Gigi Hadid has positioned herself in the same trend as the actor by launching the new brand Guest in Residence among the luxury cashmere market (251 euros for a polo, 470 euros for a cardigan). The market, however cluttered, remains profitable.

The sector is nevertheless confronted with many issues – social and environmental – related to overconsumption. The sanitary crisis has amplified this phenomenon, by heavily impacting the Mongolian farmers in the sector. Today, luxury brands are at the forefront of promoting sustainable and ethical cashmere in order to avoid losing this precious material.

Eric Bompard, the French cashmere brand (Eric Bompard)

China: the biggest cashmere producer

Today, 23,000 families depend directly on the breeding of cashmere goats in Mongolia (Loro Piana)

The yearly global production is estimated between 13,000 and 18,000 tons. Currently, the cashmere goat farms are mainly located in China and Mongolia as well as – to a lesser extent - in Iran and Afghanistan. China and Mongolia produce 90% of global cashmere. Mongolia has been particularly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. With China’s lockdown and border closures, the price of cashmere yarn has dropped by 50%. While in 2019, a kilo of cashmere costed about 38 dollars, in 2020, it could be found for 24 dollars a kilo. This had an important impact on Mongolia’s GDP which lost 6% due to the drastic reduction of exports. Today, 230,000 families depend directly on cashmere goat farms in Mongolia. China’s production can reach 10,000 tons a year for a turnover valued at 6 billion yuans (624 million euros) while Mongolia produces about 2,700 tons. Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey, and republics of central Asia offer important, yet lesser, quantities.

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