Cloudy days, cold nights and constant unpredictability of rain. Winter has finally arrived and it seems mother nature has intent to treat us with cold vengeance. And with winter comes the perennial choices of what winter accessories to take with us as we make our daily pilgrimage to and from work. One accessory usually first on the list is the humble scarf. However humble the nature of the clothing item may be, the materials used to make it is certainly not. A question one usually asks is “what is cashmere and merino wool? and “why would I choose these materials over other materials?”
Both have its merits as well as having their own unique characteristics. Let’s have a look at what cashmere and merino wool really means.
The name cashmere comes from an old spelling of Kashmir, a the region where its production and trade originated. In the late 18th century, the Scottish discovered shawls made from cashmere in India and began to import the material to Scotland. The shawls were then sold to upper-class British women who prized the fabric for its softness and warmth. (High-quality cashmere can be up to eight times warmer than sheep’s wool despite its light weight.)
Not all cashmere are equally luxe and soft. The texture, length and fibre quality all have an effect on the pricing of the material. The quality of cashmere also depends on the region where the shawls originated from. For example, in Inner Mongolia the winters are harsh and the goats have a more frugal diet, which produces the finer hair seen in the highest quality garments. However, even the best raw material can be compromised by a sub-quality finishing processes. The fineness of cashmere items comes down to the process of spinning and weaving of the fabric that ultimately affects the look, feel and touch of the final product such as a scarf.
You may also be thinking about the hefty cost of cashmere and wonder why is it so expensive? The answer lies in the production process and its scarcity. Cashmere fibres are from the soft undercoat of cashmere goats bred to produce the natural material, and it usually takes more than two goats to make a single two-ply sweater, so you can image how many goats it takes to make a high-quality dense scarf. The fibres of the warming undercoat is separated from the coarser top coat during the spring molting season, a labour-intensive process that involves combing and sorting the hair by hand. It is because of such intensive process that you get the fineness and softness in the final product.
This type of wool comes from the Merino sheep that which is most often raised and kept in Australia and New Zealand. Compared to other types of sheep wool, the Merino wool is considered to have the softest and finest fibre, making it have the best quality. It is fine, strong, naturally elastic, holds dye well, with its softness resembling the hand feel of cashmere.
Other benefits that the Merino wool offers is that it doesn’t have the itchy feel of some wools, is odour absorbent and provides excellent levels of UV protection. Perhaps one advantage of Merino wool when compared to cashmere is its durability and workability in being able to be produced into a myriad of products. It’s versatility allows it to be transformed into items from a sweater to a pair of socks, and even a pair of boxer briefs if that is to your liking. Merino wool also comes in several grades and often you see the ultrafine grade being interwoven with other finer wool such as cashmere and silk.
If you’re a big sweater like me, you’ll also be comforted to know that Merino wool is an excellent regulator of body temperature, especially when worn against the skin. It also draws moisture away from the skin (wicking) and the fibre has some moisture repellent properties, allowing the wearer to avoid feeling sweaty. Even when it gets wet, Merino wool retains warmth and helps wearers avoid hypothermia after strenuous workouts or from adverse weather conditions. And because it is a natural fibre, Merino wool contains lanolin making it antibacterial.
At this point you may be wondering why would you spend more money than you have to on products that uses these two materials over your polyester scarfs, which can be bought at a fraction of the price. The answer is actually quite simple – longevity. You may be correct in thinking that a polyester scarf is just as good as a scarf that retails for ten times the amount. However, this is the classic case of the pareto rule – spend 80 percent of your income portion for a product that only last 20 percent portion. Or spend with longevity in mind in thinking spending what is a small amount in the long run for a product that last the distance.
Often cheaper materials are just that – cheap. Polyester is a form of polymer derived from petroleum base and thus is not a natural fibre. This may lead to wearers having allergic reactions or inflammation of pre-existing skin conditions. As polyester is a synthetic fibre, it also does not naturally have good moisture-wicking properties, leading to decreased warming factor once you start to sweat as the moisture stays superficial on the fibre itself. Furthermore, with moisture being trapped on the fibre, this also leads to the formation of bacterial incubation if left uncleaned – the reason why your polyester sports clothes is that extra stinky when you haven’t washed it for a few days!
So there you have it, the breakdown of the cashmere and Merino wool. At the end of the day, both fibres have its qualities so the choice of the two will depend on your lifestyle choices and preferences. And if that still doesn’t become the deciding factor, then your wallet on the day will always tell you the truth!
Personally, I prefer the look, feel and quality of a cashmere scarf. Even though there are top quality merino scarves out there, the hand-feel of a cashmere is quite hard to beat.
What is your opinion on the two – cashmere or merino? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
‘Till next time,