Luxury Yarns: What is the Effect on Climate Change?

I travel a lot and at one of my latest trip, this time to Mongolia, I was able to see with my own eyes the effect of climate change on the pastureland due to the increased herds of cashmere goats.

Cashmere fiber is mostly sourced out of Mongolia and for a while was under the radar. However increasingly NGO’s such as Peta, and newspapers as The Guardian (1) are informing the public about the growing problem.

In 2009, the World Bank warned of consequences on the land if the herds of cashmere goats continued to increase. Contrary to sheep, yaks and camels, goats do not only eat the grass but also its roots which by over-herding increases the desertification of the land. Add on top of that a cycle of summer drought and winter snow, very low temperatures and heavy snowfall, (locally called Dzud). These factors combined with overgrazing of goat herds over several years, has resulted in a desertification of 76.8% of the Mongolian territory. (2)

Cashmere products carry the feeling of luxury in its name. Cashmere is a precious commodity because it is combed from the underbelly of goats living in high altitude and is extremely soft and fine. However, it has been copied and improperly used as a quality name because of the push to increase the herds which involved overgrazing

There are a lot of brands, especially fast fashion brands like H& M, Mango and Zara, promoting cashmere with even less than 10% of its blended yarns. When we buy a pure or blended cashmere product, having this luxury very soft touch we do not think about the effect this can have on the environment.

The industry’s rapid growth has degraded the average fiber quality. What happened is the herders, responding to the significant higher demand, increased their goat livestock with 66% over the last decade but also harvest older goats where the quality of the fiber is less leading to an overall decline of the quality of the fiber. As a result, the processing waste, which means the waste after the fiber is washed and carded increased considerably. (3) Which means that there is more fiber of a useless quality laying at the processing factory.

To avoid losing land to desertification a change has to be made and the herds of cashmere have to be managed in a more sustainable way. Luckily the awareness is growing and programs are implemented. Not only are their different organizations who are helping, like the Sustainable Fiber Association( SFA)(4) but also Green Gold (4). A project developed with the help of the Swiss Agency for Development and Corporations (SDC), where they advise and train herders to manage their livestock and pasture land in a better way, as well as help them harvest other luxury fibers as yak and camels. During several years studies were conducted and herders trained in a different management of the pasture land and in combing and separating the best part of the fiber, while bringing it to the washing and carding facilities.

Yak and Camels exist already in the Mongolian landscape and their fiber can bring additional income to the herders, which do not affect the land. However, the solution is not so easy, since the cashmere fiber gives still a higher price than yak or camel fiber.

Fashion brands have to feel responsible for climate change

Today’s fashion or textile designers who care about the environment can choose to design with the circular economy framework. For example designing with mono-materials in mind, prioritizing natural and non-mixed fibers, will help make disassembly easier. This can increase the recycling of the used garments in new high-level yarns.

Today a lot of wool and cashmere is recycled, especially in the Italian Prato area, where companies are specialized and deliver excellent results in making luxury recycled yarns.

Buy less, but better and more durable

As a customer, each of us also have our role to play. Starting to buy less, but buying better, and buying in a conscious way.

Stop the trend to decrease the lifespan of your clothing. Prefer better quality which can be repairable and is more durable. Support brands, which promote the true value of their products. All these choices help to create a more responsible way of buying and using our clothing longer avoiding to be thrown away fast and finish in landfill.. Produce less use longer will also help to reduce climate change.

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After four years of hosting more than 50 knowledge sharing and networking events, connecting sustainability and fashion professionals with each other, we have decided to stop the activities we were doing under Good Brand Guru from 2023 onwards.

With equal passion and perseverance, we are continuing to strive for a better textile and clothing industry.

We are doing this through different projects, including helping companies to become BCorp and working with Fibershed at both a Dutch and European level. The Fibershed movement seeks to develop regional fiber systems that build soil and protect the health of our biosphere. Working with a soil-to-soil vision, we are rebuilding local, collaborative supply networks that are inherently fair, circular and regenerative.

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