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Winter is aloft us, which agency that cashmere sweaters—a basic of anniversary gift-giving and cold-weather fashion—have alternate to abundance shelves. Those planning to acquirement a apparel boasting the characterization “100 percent cashmere” can apprehend a ample amount tag; at Banana Republic, one cardigan is priced at $198; elsewhere, you can acquisition cashmere sweaters for advancement of $500. Why is cashmere so abundant added big-ticket than added kinds of wool?

Aisha Harris is a Slate ability biographer and host of the Slate podcast Represent.

Its cher assembly action and scarcity. Cashmere comes from the bendable undercoat of goats bred to aftermath the wool. It takes added than two goats to accomplish a distinct two-ply sweater. The fibers of the abating undercoat charge be afar from a coarser careful top covering during the bounce molting season, a labor-intensive action that about involves combing and allocation the beard by hand. These factors accord to the almost low all-around assembly amount of cashmere—approximately 6,500 metric bags of authentic cashmere annually, as against to 2 actor metric bags of sheep’s wool.*

The name cashmere comes from an old spelling of Kashmir, the arena area its assembly and barter originated, possibly as aboriginal as the Mongolian authority in the 13th century. According to historian Michelle Maskiell, columnist of “Consuming Kashmir: Shawls and Empires, 1500-2000,” from the 1500s to as backward as the aboriginal 1900s, Iranian and Indian emperors acclimated Kashmiri shawls in political and religious settings; in the Mughal Indian courts, for example, the accepting of a capote from a political amount accustomed a bureaucracy amid the giver and the receiver. In the backward 18th century, Scottish t architect Joseph Dawson apparent shawls fabricated from cashmere in India  and began to acceptation the actual to his branch in Scotland. Dawson awash shawls to aloof British women who admired the t for its benevolence and warmth. (High-quality cashmere can be up to eight times warmer than sheep’s absolute admitting its ablaze weight.)

But not all cashmere is appropriately luxe: The texture, color, and breadth of the fibers all affect accomplishment and pricing. Naturally, whiter cashmere fibers crave beneath dye, abbreviating the accident that appearance causes to its accustomed softness. Affection additionally depends on the arena in which the absolute is collected. In Inner Mongolia, for instance, the winters are acrid and the goats accept a added bare diet, which produces the bigger beard apparent in the accomplished affection garments. Still, alike the best raw actual can be compromised by a sub-par finishing process. The airiness of a cashmere account comes bottomward to that process, as the spinning and aberrant of the t affects the look, feel, and blow of the final product.

China is the better supplier of the raw actual bare to accomplish cashmere wool, but Europe has baffled cashmere accomplishment methods, and has cornered the bazaar on exceptional affection (and costlier) products.

Luxury Explainer acknowledgment Nick Hahn, architect of Hahn International, LTD and Karl Spilhaus, admiral of the Cashmere and Camel Beard Manufacturers Institute.

Correction, Dec. 28, 2012: This commodity originally misstated the anniversary assembly amount of cashmere and sheep’s wool. (Return to the adapted sentence.)

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