The High Costs of Cheap Cashmere Sweaters

I started Isle of Skye Cashmere with a simple concept in mind: everyone ought to be able to buy the highest quality cashmere at a reasonable price.

The best cashmere sweaters –almost as a rule– are knit and hand-finished in Scotland, and the same Scottish mills that knit sweaters for Chanel and Hermes knit sweaters for Isle of Skye Cashmere.

This means that the cashmere sweaters at Isle of Skye Cashmere are as well made as any cashmere sweater you’ll find at Chanel.Rita Jones - Isle of Skye Cashmere

But it also means that through direct sourcing and low overheads, I’m able to offer cashmere sweaters of the highest quality at a reasonable price.

My experience shows that you’d be hard pressed to find sweaters made in Scotland priced more attractively than mine.

That being said, there are plenty of cashmere sweaters on the market today that are far less expensive than the cashmere sweaters I offer at Isle of Skye Cashmere.

But here’s the rub:  these lower cost cashmere sweaters –without exception– are mass produced for companies where standards of construction are lackluster at best.

Indeed, companies that mass-produce cashmere sweaters cut costs by making inferior products – cashmere sweaters that sag at the elbows, cashmere sweaters that pill, and cashmere sweaters that are knit at a low gauge.

More alarmingly, the workers that mass-produce these cashmere sweaters often earn only a few dollars per hour.

Conversely, knitters in Scotland –the knitters that knit for Isle of Skye Cashmere– earn a livable wage; they produce sustainable knitwear; and they adhere to environmental and labor regulations that are similar, if not more stringent, than those enforced in the United States.

In short, companies that mass-produce cashmere sweaters make compromises to achieve a lower cost that Isle of Skye Cashmere is not willing to make. The result of these compromises is a compromised, inferior product – a ‘mass-produced’ cashmere sweater in the worst sense of the word.

For mass-produced sweaters, the first area of compromise is often raw materials – the cashmere fibers.

In sourcing cashmere fibers, it’s true that you pay for what you get.

The best, most expensive fibers are thinner, softer and longer. They are therefore less likely to pill. They are also whiter (color purity when dying).

When mass-producers want to save money, they start with inferior fibers. These fibers are thicker, coarser, shorter, and therefore more likely to pill. They are also off-white (muddy dyed color).

Unfortunately, to the untrained eye, inferior cashmere fibers are extremely difficult to detect. Often, it’s only after wearing and cleaning the cashmere that you’ll notice the difference.

The low-quality fiber shows! The sweater looks and feels worn. It has lots of pilling. It’s not as soft as you would like it to be. Nor is it colorful and bright.

The second compromise mass-producers make: quality of construction – and here it’s easy to cut corners.

Scottish mills –the mills that knit sweaters for Chanel, Hermes, and Isle of Skye Cashmere– use a technique called “fully fashioning” when finishing sweaters.

During this process, individual pieces are linked together with cashmere yarn. And this is done by hand.

This process provides our cashmere sweaters a flexible, comfortable fit. It ensures that our sweaters will retain their shape.

Conversely, mass-producers often do anything but “fully fashion” their sweaters.

Mass-producers often sew sweaters together with machine and thread. This creates a less tailored, awkward fit. (Note: Another small area of compromise is the quality of buttons: Isle of Skye Cashmere uses mother of pearl buttons, whereas mass-producers often use plastic buttons, resulting in an inferior product.)

The third compromise mass-producers make: less cashmere in each cashmere sweater.

Mass producers do this by knitting at a lower gauge (density of knitting stitches).

The Scottish mills that knit for Chanel, Hermes, and Isle of Skye Cashmere knit 2-ply sweaters at 21-gauge. This gives each cashmere sweater a silky, soft drape.

Conversely, you’ll find inferior sweaters are often knit at 15-gauge. This saves money because the lower the gauge, the less cashmere.

Low gauge results in cashmere sweaters that are loose and gauzy. These cashmere sweaters lose shape over time. They bag at the shoulders and elbow.

The fourth compromise mass-producers always make: they knit cashmere sweaters in developing countries, often paying workers only a couple of dollars on the hour.

Isle of Skye Cashmere sources cashmere sweaters from Scotland – primarily from a family-owned company that pays skilled workers a living wage. Further, Scotland has environmental regulations similar, if not more stringent, to those in the US. The steps required to keep the water and air clean are costly.

Many developing countries fail to impose environmental regulations on mass-producers. Accordingly, there are few costs incurred to mitigate the impact of production processes on the environment.

It is an unfortunate reality, but a reality nonetheless.

So the next time you’re looking to buy a cashmere sweater, I hope you’ll keep the information above in mind.

Look at the label. Does it say “Made in China” or “Made in Scotland”?

I have no problem trying to save money on cashmere sweaters; but I do want to provide a clear and transparent alternative to consumers who value craftsmanship and lasting quality. I want to provide cashmere sweaters to consumers who are concerned about the impact of production on workers and the environment. (I have grandchildren!)

These are the values Isle of Skye Cashmere is all about.

Rita Jones
Founder and Owner – Isle of Skye Cashmere

 

2 thoughts on “The High Costs of Cheap Cashmere Sweaters

  1. Hi Rita,
    I love reading the articles to write about cashmere, in fact I save them. This one was particularly informative. I was just pulling out my sweaters from my storage drawer today, they are in your Isle of Skye protective zippered covers.
    Now if it would just cool down a bit in New York, I can start wearing them. Most of my sweaters at this point come from Isle of Skye.
    I waited too long and missed out on a grey ruffled cardi. with pearl buttons in my size. I have to act quicker.
    Keep the information coming and the sweaters replenished.
    Judy Ruthenberg

  2. Dear Rita:

    I agree with all your points . I would love for you to add why is that so many mass producers sell “dry clean” cashmere. I actually hand washed a couple of those sweaters and they ended fitting my daughter’s american girl dolls….

    Marion

    ________________________________

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