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Our Plan

Wholly Goat is a brand new cashmere company, based in London and Kathmandu. As we started this project in 2009, we don’t have a long history to tell you about. But we have a plan:

We’re going to make beautiful, beautiful cashmere scarves, whatever it takes.
Soft cashmere shawls, warm cashmere wraps, elegant cashmere stoles, toasty cashmere scarves. To do that, we’d take contemporary British designs and make them in Nepal, using 100% pure cashmere, and the traditional skills of Nepali craftsmen.

We’re going to tell the story. About how our cashmere shawls and cashmere scarves are made, where they come from and who makes them – because we think knowing where cashmere comes from makes your cashmere scarf even more special.

We’re going to do a little bit of good at the same time.
We decided to make our cashmere in Nepal not just because the weavers are amazing or because we love the country (although they are, and we do). By making our pieces in Nepal, respecting our partners and supporting our workforce properly, we hoped we could give something back to Nepal through the positive force of trade, not aid.

That’s our plan. Here’s to putting it into action!

Our Pieces

Here at Wholly Goat, we like to keep things simple.

We are not talking dull of course. We mean pure – all our cashmere is lab tested to make sure it contains no viscose, plastic or even wool just 100% cashmere from the goats of the Mongolian steppe.

We also mean subtle. Our patterns come from our design team in the UK, and are woven by our master craftsmen in Patan. The result is soft, elegant cashmere that’s contemporary and beautiful.

And it means practical. We create pieces that don’t just float on the shoulders looking wonderful. They’re comfortable, versatile and come in all shapes and sizes (with each piece carefully weighed so you get what you ordered). We make cashmere shawls that keep you cool in the summer, cashmere wraps that are as toasty as a coat, and everything in between.

Our Pledge

Good cashmere that’s good for Nepal.
Our aim is to balance competitiveness with support for our Nepali partners, and to generally be a small force for good. So we made a pledge:

We don’t negotiate hard for the sake of a few rupees (which make no difference to prices in the UK, but a big difference in Nepal).

We’ll use our factory to train local people from the Kathmandu valley – giving them practical, artistic and management skills that will hopefully help them support families and improve their communities.

We’ll do our damndest to make you proud of your Wholly Goat cashmere shawl, by making our supply chain as ethical as possible. We can’t promise a completely clean bill of health yet, because our chain of responsibility only goes back as far as picking our yarn (not how the goats were looked after, for example). But we’re working on that bit, too.

A tale of two scarves: the story of cashmere

Ok, so we’re not going to try and tell you the whole story of cashmere. It would fill a book. But we thought we’d give you a short potted history of where this wonderful material comes from, and highlight a few important threads of the story along the way.

So here goes.

A long time ago in a country far, far away (well, Persia)

For centuries, Cashmere was actually known as Pashmina (from ‘Pashm’, the Persian word for wool). You can see references to Pashmina in Indian documents dating right back to the 3rd Century BC. But it only grew into a proper industry in the 15th Century (thanks to Zayn-ul-Abidin – then leader of the Kashmiri region – who introduced weavers from Central Asia).

The term cashmere only came in during the 16th Century, when it was used to describe the shawls spun by Kashmiri craftsmen on the Silk Route bound for India. While very little cashmere actually came from Kashmir (today, not much at all does), the name stuck.

It wasn’t until even later still – in the early years of the 1800s – that cashmere hit the fashionable halls of Western Europe. It first arrived in Paris worn by the wife of a French General-in-Chief, who’d bought it while campaigning in Egypt with Napoleon. It quickly became the most sought after (and expensive) status symbol of the day – and has arguably kept that position since.

The harder the goat, the softer the wool

A big part of the allure of cashmere comes from it’s origins.

As you probably know, cashmere comes from the undercoat of cashmere goats. It’s either shorn or combed off once a year, and the best quality cashmere comes from around the throat and belly.

These goats like nothing better than cold, dry, tough terrains (you have to in Mongolia, where winter hits 45 degrees below zero). It’s these inhospitable conditions that make the goat’s undercoat so fine and warm. It also explains why you find cashmere goats in only 12 countries around the world. The colder the climate, the finer and warmer the undercoat, and the better the cashmere that comes from it.

A labour of love (but one that’s worth it)

The other reason why cashmere is so special, of course, is the nature of it. We work with cashmere all the time here at Wholly Goat. But even we have to step back every now and then to appreciate what an amazing thing it is. The diameter of a piece of cashmere yarn is under 19 microns (1/16th the diameter of a human hair). And pashmina, the finest grade of cashmere, is a mere 12-14 microns thick.

Also astonishing is the amount of yarn you need to make a scarf or sweater, and how labour intensive it is to do it. It takes the wool of 3-4 Cashmere goats to make one scarf, for example. And if you combed the wool off one Cashmere goat, it would take you 4 years to gather enough hair for one standard sweater.

Once this ultra fine yarn is woven, however, it produces one of the warmest materials you can find on the planet, one that’s eight times warmer than sheep’s wool.

It’s also fantastically soft and supple; cashmere scarves are often known as ‘ring scarves’ because a full-sized scarf can be pulled through a finger ring.

The rise of mass-market cashmere

As the 18th Century made way for the 19th Century, and the links between east and west gradually became closer, the cashmere trade began to grow steadily in countries like India, Nepal and China (while countries like Scotland and Italy started to industrialise the manufacturing of clothes out of imported cashmere).

It also began to support an increasing amount of goat herders, along with whole communities of weavers and exporters in places like the Kathmandu valley (where our Wholly Goat partners work today).

But progress was slow. Right up until the late 20th Century, the remoteness of the grasslands needed for grazing goats, the long distances involved and the rural nature of countries like China and Mongolia meant it was a steady industry gently on the rise.

Then suddenly, bang – everything changed. It was in the 1980s, during China’s great expansion of its textile industry, that the growth of the cashmere industry began to pick up pace. And pick up pace at an astonishing rate (in 1949 there were 2.4 million goats in Mongolia. In 2004 there were 25.8 million).

We could talk about the effect of this boom in Chinese manufactured cashmere for hours (don’t worry, we won’t). But it’s had three effects that are important to the future of the cashmere story, so are worth mentioning:

* First, cashmere is getting cheaper and cheaper. Here in the UK, for example, you can now get a cashmere scarf for £10, and a cashmere sweater for £29.
* Second, the quality of a lot of the cashmere you see on shelves in the UK is declining in line with its price. To keep costs down it gets mixed with viscose, other types of wool – even plastic – while still being sold under the banner of 100% cashmere. Not good for the banner, and not good for people buying it.
* Third, and perhaps most important, the cashmere supply line is coming under immense strain. The massive increase in goats is resulting in overgrazing and desertification. Herders are finding it difficult to sustain the herds they already have. And the pressure to make ever more clothes means working conditions in many processing and weaving factories are being sacrificed for the sake of production.

Not good.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. As a result of what’s been happening, a small but growing movement of cashmere brands and suppliers have begun to opt out of the poor alternative in favour of traditional methods of production, along with an altogether more responsible approach to how their cashmere is made and what conditions weavers work in.

Many are even trying to get involved with how the goats and their grasslands are protected, although this is still difficult as so much of it is in China.

Of course, this in itself doesn’t mean everything’s going to be fine. Realistically, well-made, more expensive cashmere is never going to replace cheap Chinese cashmere completely. What it can do, though, is set the bar for standards of cashmere production and clothes – so people don’t forget what those standards are. It’s also a start in the campaign to make sure the cashmere industry is better protected. We think it’s the right first step. We hope you do, too.