The Golden Fleece
The name Cashmere is derived from ‘Kashmir,’ the northernmost region of India. Like Merino Wool, a fiber that garnered a royal decree from the King of Spain, the Alpaca fiber was made famous when a 14th-century saint fashioned a pair of socks that were later gifted to the King of Kashmir. Its name is Cashmere. Cashmere has long been a fiber of great importance in the arid reaches of Central Asia and still is today.
Cashmere, like wool, takes a great deal of care and preparation before it can be made into men's cashmere overcoats. Cashmere (fiber) comes from the backs of cashmere goats. These agile goats, along with their herders, call home some of the harshest lands on earth. The arid steppes they graze experience extreme temperature swings. Excruciatingly hot days and bitter cold nights are common throughout the year. Daily temperature changes of 20 to 30 degrees (Celcius) are typical. The acute temperature fluctuation lends itself to fine fiber production, making fibers between 14 and 16 microns standard. For comparison, a very fine Merino wool fiber is between 19 to 20 microns, and run of the mill wool fibers can be as large as 40 microns.
Combing cashmere. See the 100% cashmere men's overcoat here.
Unlike most sheep that require shearing, cashmere goats must be combed to harvest the finest fiber. It can take upwards of two weeks to relieve a goat of its luxurious locks. However, it depends on the environment and the experience of the “comber." Following combing, cashmere is processed similarly to wool, although with a few differences. Cashmere doesn’t contain lanolin so intense scouring (washing) isn’t necessary. Cashmere also doesn’t have a crimp. Crimp, common in wool, gives the yarn loft and “springiness.” It's why Robert W. Stolz often uses a blend of cashmere or alpaca and wool. It’s only after careful preparation that it can be made into a Robert W. Stolz men's cashmere coat.
The Silk Road
Although cashmere is historically significant in the Central Asian plateau, Great Britain played an important role in its story and supply chain. In order to produce a fine men's cashmere overcoat, processors and markets were needed. Early mills and population centers just so happened to be in Europe, specifically England and Scotland. The remote, exotic locales of Northern China, India, and Mongolia didn’t lend themselves to commercial manufacturing so most cashmere found its way onto the Silk Road.
The Silk Road originated in Central Asia, meandered through the Fertile Crescent, and ended in Northwestern Europe, where the fibers were processed and crafted into garments. A majority of the world’s cashmere still 'follows' the Silk Road, although not literally as transport by air and sea are sometimes preferred, it is still being processed in historic mills throughout England and Scotland, adding credence to a tradition hundreds of years old.
Fiber of the Gods
Another fiber-bearing animal with a great influence on modern fashion hails from South America. The alpaca. A member of the camelid family, alpacas are found throughout the world but are most common on the arid steppes of the Andes. Alpacas grow fine, durable fibers, often finer and stronger than merino. There is no wonder why it was originally referred to as the “Fiber of the Gods,” and reserved for royalty in the form of alpaca jackets, coats, and shawls.
An alpaca in its element.
The Moche people of Peru first domesticated alpacas, breeding them from vicuñas. Vicuñas, the wild ancestors of alpacas, produce some of the finest, sought after fiber in the world. Alpacas have provided livelihoods for many South Americans living in the Andes for hundreds of years. It’s no surprise half the world’s alpaca population resides amongst herders in Peru. Peruvians are true believers in the fine fibers they produce and despite the enticing offer to sell it overseas, they can often be seen wearing alpaca jackets and shawls of their own.
The exquisite fiber used to produce Robert W. Stolz alpaca jackets follows a supply chain similar to wool. Alpacas, like sheep, are sheared once a year in spring. The fiber is then processed, and in the case of alpaca fiber, often in country, and then spun into yarn and woven into fabric in Europe. The fabric used in Robert W. Stolz alpaca jackets is a blend of alpaca and wool. The fineness of alpaca improves the feel and drape of the garment while wool contributes durability. A blend like this takes time to perfect and a great deal of preparation.
Infrastructure and supply chain improvements have helped meet the growing demand for these precious fibers, enabling more people to enjoy their luxurious qualities. Providing a market for exotic fibers has allowed traditions and cultures to remain strong while allowing new traditions to emerge. The two fibers have allowed for a communion of traditions, in a sense. European mills, with their rich textile history in wool and cotton, are able to craft new projects with fibers customary of Central Asia and South America. Robert W. Stolz men's cashmere overcoats and alpaca jackets are truly global works of art.