CHRISTMAS jumpers come in many varieties, with cashmere the ultimate in festive luxury.

Yet despite this image, a few years ago it suddenly became possible to throw a bit of cashmere into the trolley during a supermarket shop.


In theory, cashmere is quite a sustainable choice. With care it lasts well for 10- 30 years and at the end of its lifetime, is biodegradable. Additionally, with an investment item comes the desire to care for it.

It supports a traditional livelihood, and in most cases cashmere is kind to skin, being soft and adjusting well to body temperature, keeping us warm when we need it, yet breathable when we don’t.

However, virgin cashmere can have a high environmental impact, intensified by demand for cheap cashmere over recent years.

One quality sweater requires the combed hair of five goats over one year of growing, not something that marries well with ‘fast fashion’.

Thus, the market change has resulted in over-grazing, with demand for more goats who eat a lot, of everything! Herders are short changed and under pressure, which impacts on how the animals are treated.

The push for cheaper cashmere can also lead to a downgrade in quality; coarser hair is used too, not only the soft undercoat. There are even stories of it being bulked out with hair from other animals. Suddenly things aren’t looking quite so luxurious.


You might prefer to avoid animal fibres altogether. A great alternative is organic cotton ‘tricot’ knit or also hemp, mixed with cotton for softness.

If the feel and properties of cashmere are for you then:

1. Support the work of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance in developing sustainable grazing systems and traceable supply chains.

2. Seek out where the yarn has come from, consider the story behind the price-tag, viewing it as an investment piece to which you can commit to wear at least 30 times.

Cost is sometimes an issue when making sustainable swaps, but there are also ethical knitwear options a little more affordable.

3. Consider pre-loved. You can occasionally discover pieces in online auctions, vintage, or charity shops.

4. Discover recycled and upcycled.

Rifo, from Tuscany, collects quality cashmere garments which have reached the end of their life and spin them into a regenerated yarn. You can find Rifo ponchos, hats, gloves, and scarves at Olive and Rosy in Wellington or

Chloe Haywood, an award-winning milliner based in Somerset creates hats, gloves and hot water bottle covers from old cashmere garments. You can even send in your own used woollens as part of her ‘I Want Your Woolies!’ campaign in return for a voucher. Visit or see her work at The Emporium, Wellington.