Share this post

🔑 Key Takeaways

  1. While affordable cashmere has benefited Mongolian herders and the economy, the increased demand has caused environmental and social challenges. Conscious consumption is crucial for supporting sustainable production.
  2. Mongolian goat herders face financial difficulties due to inflation and the high costs of education in the capital city. They desire to be more involved in the processing and knitting of cashmere to increase their income.
  3. Mongolia's cashmere industry faces challenges due to limited processing capacity, resulting in the majority of cashmere being exported to China for production. As a result, the process of producing cashmere clothing requires a significant amount of goats and compromises on quality are common. Buyers must develop the ability to distinguish between good and lower-quality cashmere products.
  4. The cashmere industry is grappling with demand and environmental issues, but measures like re-vegetation taxes and confinement of herding can help create a sustainable future for this crucial part of Mongolia's identity.

📝 Podcast Summary

The Rise and Impact of Affordable Cashmere

Cashmere, once a luxurious and exclusive fabric, has become more accessible and popular in recent years due to direct-to-consumer companies selling affordable cashmere sweaters. This has had a positive impact on Mongolian herders who rely on cashmere production as a primary income source and an important pillar of the country's economy. However, the increased demand for cashmere has also come at a cost, as the expansion of the cashmere industry has led to environmental and social challenges. It is important to be conscious of the origins and sustainability of the cashmere products we buy, as the production process can have significant consequences on local communities and the environment.

The Challenges Faced by Mongolian Goat Herders in the Cashmere Industry

The privatization of goat herds in Mongolia, combined with the country's transition to democracy, has led to the herding business becoming the largest profession in the country. Mongolian herders, unlike their counterparts in China, are nomadic and constantly search for better pastures for their goats. The cashmere produced by these goats is harvested every spring and its price is determined by its color and quality. However, despite the hard work put in by herders, the economic returns are not enough to cover their financial demands, especially due to inflation and the expenses of educating their children in the expensive capital city. While selling the cashmere directly to mills would increase their income, geographical limitations make it difficult. Ultimately, there is a desire for Mongolians to be more involved in the processing and knitting of cashmere themselves.

Limitations in Mongolia's Cashmere Industry and the Importance of Distinguishing Quality

Mongolia's cashmere industry faces limitations due to insufficient processing capacity within the country. Most of the cashmere collected from herders is exported to China, where full-scale milling operations convert it into yarn. This process involves carding, which draws out the fibers, and spinning, which twists the hair into a long yarn. However, during this process, the cashmere shrinks by about 50 percent, requiring a significant amount of goats to produce a single article of clothing. While cashmere products were once a luxury, they are now mass-produced, resulting in cheaper options in the market. However, some brands compromise on quality by using less material or lower-quality fibers. It is important for buyers to develop a sense for distinguishing good cashmere from lower-quality options.

Challenges and Solutions for a Sustainable Cashmere Industry

The cashmere industry is facing significant challenges due to increased demand, overgrazing, and climate change. Mongolia has seen a boom in cashmere production, leading to an explosion in the goat population. However, this has had negative impacts on the landscape, with overgrazing leading to the degradation of 70 percent of Mongolia's grasslands. To combat these issues, Mongolian officials have implemented measures such as livestock taxes for re-vegetation. In China, herding operations have been confined to farms to prevent further damage. Additionally, the industry is facing pressure to adapt to sustainability standards, with environmental permits costing significant amounts. Despite these challenges, those involved in the trade recognize the importance of creating a sustainable future for cashmere, as it is not just a material but a part of the country's identity.