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Made from the softest wool produced by certain breeds of goats, such as the Zalaa Ginst white goat and Tibetan Plateau goat, cashmere was once reserved for the wealthiest fashionistas. (Napoleon Bonaparte’s wife helped popularize the fabric.) But over the past two decades, its cachet skyrocketed and cheaper garments flooded the market.
Nearly $1.4bn of cashmere garments were exported globally in 2016, up from $1.2bn in 2010, according to United Nations trade data. That's nearly 5 million kilograms worth of pullovers, cardigans, and other tops. Now it’s seemingly everywhere, at every price point. Ubiquity can spell trouble for a product as it becomes more of a commodity, especially one that’s been historically marketed as a luxury item.
So what makes one sweater better than another? The price depends on the quality of the yarn, where the garment was manufactured, the number of units purchased by the brand, and the markup.
The quality of the raw material often matters most. Lengthier cashmere fibers maintain their integrity for a longer time, allowing garments to retain their structure. Pilling — the small balls that form on the fabric as it chafes — is more common in garments made of shorter cashmere strands. These days, manufacturers frequently make the clothes out of a mix of lengths to balance quality with cost.
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