Cashmere comes from the Capra hircus langier goat found mostly in inhospitable mountainous regions. Due to its harsh habitat, cashmere goats have developed a highly protective fleece for its survival. As a result of the extreme temperatures under which they live, an outer coat of coarser guard hairs protect from the sun, rain, and dust, while an undercoat of finer down hair forms an insulating layer. Cashmere fibre, known for its lightness and thermal properties, provides this protection. Specifically, Afghan cashmere goats typically provide fine cashmere between 16-18 µm in diameters at an average length of 28-32 mm. Each goat produces approximately 200-250 grams of useable cashmere per year.
Shearing- In the spring, cashmere goats are sheared in advance of the summer season.
Collection- Individual farmers sell their raw cashmere to local collectors to create a viable quantity of cashmere that may attract customers.
Hand-Dehairing/Sorting- While the shorn fleece contains both guard and down hairs, the valuable part of the fleece is the down. The two types of fibres are initially separated and sorted by color (white, fawn, and brown). In Afghanistan, this provides reliable seasonal employment for families. Hand sorting also prepares the cashmere for the next step in processing by opening and removing foreign materials from the fibres.
Scouring- The cashmere goat collects dust, dirt, and debris as it grazes through the wild. That waste along with the natural oils the animal accrues throughout the season must be carefully removed prior to further processing. The scouring process provides the critical initial wash of the fibre. Scouring conditions of the finer cashmere requires greater controls than normal wool. Care must be taken not to impair the luster of the cashmere through strict controls of water rates, temperature, pH and the proper type and quantity of detergent. Errors in the scouring process may degrade the fibre's quality and ability to hold dyes. Every stage in the scouring process and subsequent drying is controlled to ensure no residues are left behind and the proper amount of natural grease remains with the fibre. Approximately 15-20% of the original mass is removed in this process.
Dehairing- The process by which machinery separates the coarse guard from the fine down fibres is called dehairing. Mechanical combing procedures utilize the difference in friction between these fibres to separate the two. In addition to separating the fibres, this process further removes any impurities that may remain in the cashmere. The end result of this process is extremely soft and fluffy pure cashmere. Approximately 35-40% of the original input remains at the end of this process.
Yarn and Fabric Manufacture- In converting cashmere into yarn, similar machinery is used as in the case of wool. Nevertheless, the shorter, finer cashmere is more challenging to process, particularly in drawing and spinning.