Cashmere, with its luxurious, cloud-like touch and high price point, was once reserved for only the fanciest of shoppers, but the rare wool (which comes from the soft under coat of specific goats) has thankfully trickled down to more accessible markets, with several brands and retailers offering affordable options. To some extent, however, you get what you pay for, and not all items that list cashmere on the label will last for more than one season — or will satisfy an eco-friendly shopper looking to do no harm. Read on for three cashmere labels that emphasize environmental and social responsibility throughout each stage of their super-soft garment's life, and that won't break the bank if you're looking to stock up this winter.
New York-based Naadam Cashmere was born out of a serendipitous trip to Mongolia. The co-founder and CEO of the brand, Matthew Scanlan, found himself in this very cold part of the world after he decided to take a step back from his career in finance. It was through his interactions with nomadic herders in the Gobi Desert that Scanlan decided to start a nonprofit organization, which would ultimately become a sustainable, direct-to-consumer line of cashmere. "Our nonprofit work was focused around micro-economic development for groups of disparate nomadic herders, and it was only after unsuccessfully doing certain non-profit programs that we understood what the problem was," Scanlan explains. "There were larger systematic economic issues where the value of the material was not being captured by the community and there were a series of middlemen — more or less just traders or brokers — who had been operating in these regions and were basically taking more money than the herders were making."
Since its inception in 2013, Naadam has worked to transform the cashmere supply chain by purchasing the wool directly from Mongolian herders, rather than through middlemen who inflate prices. "We came in and we paid more than anybody else for doing the same amount of work," Scanlan says. "We didn't subject ourselves to traditional trading systems and we started a clothing brand so we could pass the value along."
For Naadam, the focus is really on material and material development. There are thousands of companies making cashmere sweaters, but very few of them are actually purchasing raw materials and then doing the sorting at the material level. "We go to remote regions and are buying upwards of 100 to 100 thousand kilos of material and are sorting out good versus bad; in that process, we are determining where the value lies," notes Scanlan. "We will then do the next process of de-hairing and washing, which is cleaning the material. The benefit of having our hands in these pockets is we can make sure that it's not only transparent, but environmental as well and that's super-important to us."
The resulting product is beautifully crafted knitwear that is both ethically made and aesthetically pleasing. These durable cashmere sweaters are elevated wardrobe essentials, thanks to their feminine designs, which feature flared arm openings, cutouts, ruffles, romantic ties and playful slits, all washed in a warm color palate and priced under $400.
You can shop Naadam at a selection of online retailers, but for NYC locals, the brand has carved out a temporary cozy spot on Elizabeth Street in Nolita, where it will remain selling cashmere goods until Dec. 31.
See some pieces from Naadam's studio collection in the gallery below, and head to Shopbop for more styles.
Direct-to-consumer line Leimere launched in May with the sole purpose of creating luxurious, cashmere-blended loungewear at a reasonable price. (Hence the name "Leimere," which is a combo of "leisure" and "cashmere.") In its near-six months of existence, the brand has released four collections containing sustainably produced minimalist essentials, including seasonless travel wear, yoga-friendly sets — a cashmere (and less expensive) counterpart to cool-girl Outdoor Voices apparel — and snugly sweats.
Designed and produced by a NYC-based duo with over 25 years of industry experience, Leimere is crafted with care using the the highest quality yarn and expert workmanship, all without the traditional retail markup — meaning that you can own plenty of cashmere pieces under $75. In addition, the brand is big on manufacturing its live-in goods at ethically responsible factories, and Leimere is keen on making sure its factory in southern China maintains strict social compliance standards, fair labor practices and wages. It also works with a WRAP (worldwide responsible accredited production) certified factory, which ensures that the sewn products are being produced under lawful, human and ethical conditions.
Leimere is still in its early stages, but has already carved out a niche spot in the realm of sustainable cashmere, having slightly dipped into the athleisure trend and spoken to our perpetual need to lounge. Although, we wouldn't suggest you take the leggings and bralette set to boxing just yet, we would advise you to attack a downward dog in the cashmere uniform and we'd highly recommend that you tackle a whole series of Netflix while wearing the joggers and hoodie.
See some of Leimere's essential pieces in the gallery below, and head to the site for more styles.
White + Warren
Susan White Morrissey founded cashmere brand White + Warren over 20 years ago after a friend found her strong entrepreneurial spirit and business expertise to be a good match for a man in China with a large supply of cashmere wool and a desire to transform it into sellable product in the U.S. At the time, Morrissey didn't own a single piece of cashmere, but she took a chance and started working on a business plan.
Since then, the relatively small label has steadily grown and expanded outside of the U.S. into Canada, Belgium, Australia and small parts of the U.K. But for the first time in its two-decade history, White + Warren is introducing reclaimed cashmere styles into its seasonal collections starting with Winter 2017. Entitled "Reclaimed," the capsule is created entirely from plush reconstituted cashmere and consists of four basics in mixed neutral hues: a beanie, an oversized crewneck, turtleneck and a blanket, all priced under $600.
"In July, we heard about this factory that was re-using and reclaiming cashmere, and we were very excited and curious about it, so we went to check it out," Morrissey explains over the phone."We were impressed with the facility, the production, the yarn and the overall process."
This recycling and rebuilding process begins at a family-owned mill in Tuscany, Italy where artisans sort through colorful piles of unworn cashmere to hand select the highest quality fibers. The knits are then deconstructed and transformed back into cashmere fiber through a special shredding process, re-dyed, re-spun and reborn as brand new yarn, and thus given a new life to keep the next wearer warm and cozy for many more years to come.
Morrissey, who was raised by an eco-conscious green goddess of a mother, would've given her cashmere production processes an ethical makeover years ago, but this was really the first time the company had the opportunity to do it: "We would have done it sooner, but this was sort of a new thing being launched by one of our agents here in NYC that has a factory in Tuscany" she notes. "So we decided that we would put a small little collection together for winter — four easy, classic pieces that you'd want to live in."
See each style in the gallery below, and head to the site for more colors.