I spent part of my morning editing a friend’s manuscript of his experience trying to help the Mongolian Cashmere goat herders establish better breeding programs to create better quality fleece, which would then increase the herders’ incomes and wealth.
Cashmere, of course, is amazing and wonderful, but it’s also fraught with exploitation. Let me stop here briefly to say that my knowledge is limited, but from Steve’s manuscript, I learned some troublesome things:
**Mongolia’s terrain and weather, combined with the nomadic nature of the herders, makes it hard to establish a “market.” There is not really a central place or a time when all herders and buyers can come together; this means that it’s extremely difficult to set prices based on demand or weather predictaments or other economic factors. There are no (or few) annual “Fleece Fairs.” Thus, the Chinese typically buy up what is available regardless of the quality of the fleece at prices they set. I checked all my cashmere sweaters before writing this post, and yep, all are Made in China.
**When the Soviets tried to infiltrate the Mongolians, the Soviets chief concern was more, more, more fiber, with little regard to quality. After a few generations the texture and weight of the fleece has decreased, but herders are extremely cautious/skeptical to cull their herds because more animals equal wealth and stature. It’s almost as though the present herders have forgotten the time-proven herding skills of their great-grandparents.
There’s more to this story, and it’s really much more complicated than what I’ve shared. I really hope Steve’s manuscript gets picked up by an American publisher (he’s had some bites from New York houses), but until then, try not to buy cheap cashmere sweaters or cashmere yarn made in China. In fact, look specifically for “Made in Mongolian” tags if you can as the herders earn more from these products.
Let’s face it: Americans and Europeans buy most of the cashmere. Just as we are demanding more organic cottons (and companies are delivering), let’s start demanding Mongolian cashmere.