An edit of this article 'How to Source a Sustainable Christmas Jumper' was published in the Somerset Gazette on 20th December.
December = glowing fires, warm drinks, lounging in cosy festive knitwear…
Christmas jumpers come in all varieties, with luxurious cashmere probably being top of the pile (pun apologies!) Yet, despite all its associations with luxury, a few years ago it suddenly became possible for us to casually throw a bit of cashmere into the trolley whilst doing your big supermarket Christmas shop.
Why was this a problem?
In theory cashmere rates fairly well in terms of sustainability. When cared for correctly it is long lasting, keeping well for around 30 years and at the end of its lifetime, is biodegradable. Additionally, with a luxury, investment item comes the responsibility and desire to care for it.
Cashmere is kind to skin in most cases, being so soft and adjusting well to body temperature, it keeps us warm when we need it yet remains breathable when we don’t.
It has the potential to support and maintain a traditional livelihood.
However, virgin cashmere can have a high environmental impact, intensified by the demand for cheap cashmere over recent years.
To make one quality sweater, the combed hair of five goats from one year of growing is required. This is not something that marries well with ‘fast fashion’
Thus, the market change has resulted in over-grazing, there is a pressure for more goats and goats eat a lot, of everything! Herders are short changed and under pressure, which impacts on how the animals are treated.
The push for ever cheaper cashmere can also lead to a downgrade in quality, the coarser hair is used too, not only the soft undercoat. There have even been stories of it being bulked out with hair from other animals... suddenly things aren’t looking quite so luxurious.