The only source of authentic cashmere is the Kashmir goat, native to the Himalayas. The fine undercoat hair of the goat is collected by combing or shearing during the spring moulting season. After sorting and scouring, the fibers are cleaned of their coarse outer hairs.
Annual yield of the premium undercoat hairs is around around 5 ounces per animal, making it rare and very expensive. It takes the combined annual yield of several goats to make a single garment.
Because of its warmth, the fiber has been widely used to make sweaters and, because of its softness, baby clothes. However, there are many other natural fibers that work just as well, at more economical prices.
Coarser cashmere from the goats is often used for rugs and carpets. However, it is a completely different texture and feel from what is commonly referred to as “cashmere”.
US standards set an average fiber diameter for cashmere of no more than 19 microns, and top quality fiber is just 14 microns. It has natural crimp, which allows it to be spun into fine, lightweight fabrics. Cashmere has small air spaces between the fibers which make it warm, without excess weight. The thin cuticle cells on the fiber surface make it smooth and lustrous.
China has become the world's leading cashmere producer. But if you desire the finest fibers, only those from Mongolia should be considered. European countries and the United States are attempting to promote standards for cashmere, to prevent inferior products being marked as premium cashmere.