Kit and Ace, Technical Cashmere and Rethinking Luxury

Technical cashmere. How sexy! Few fibres bring luxury to mind as quickly as cashmere. Its impossibly soft and airy characteristics have made it a favourite with consumers seeking lightweight warmth.  As a result, demand for cashmere has ballooned in recent years, leading to its ubiquitous presence in retail stores. It has also led to the rise of a number of cashmere blends, including “technical cashmere.”

Vancouver company Kit and Ace has noticed the growing demand for the fabric. In response, they have created their own cashmere product. If you aren’t yet familiar with the brand, Kit and Ace is the latest fashion venture from Shannon Wilson, former lead designer at lululemon and spouse of lululemon founder Chip Wilson. The company has the lovely casual design sensibility that propelled lululemon to star status over the past decade. Its clothing is attractive, modern and minimalist. I love their clothes. In fact, I’d be a devoted customer apart from the fact that the marketing gimmick behind Kit and Ace is a proprietary fabric called “technical cashmere.”

What is technical cashmere?

Technically, there’s really not much cashmere in “technical cashmere.” The majority  of Kit and Ace clothing items contain a mere 6% of the fibre. Not much, but that’s the worst part, in my opinion. Leveraging the public’s association of cashmere with luxury, Kit and Ace chooses to focus their attention on the cashmere component of the fabric.

Happy goats

cashmere-goat

via pixabay

It is derived, the company proudly states “from happy goats living in both Mongolia and Inner Mongolia, China.” Lest any customers worry about the ethics of removing these animals protective coats, they reassure us that:

the goats are combed once a year in April when they are losing their winter hair. Their hair falls out easily in the spring and a wide-tooth wired comb is used to ensure only the cashmere hair is removed, not their regular hair.

Sounds great! It’s like these goats are practically begging us to take their wool!

Assuming for a moment that Kit and Ace actually supervise this annual ritual; and the animals are processed using the most humane, traditional method of harvesting – rather than the underbelly-shearing method often used in larger operations – this is what the animals have to look forward to:

Hmm. Not quite what I pictured while reading the flowery prose from the Kit and Ace website. It’s certainly no spa treatment for the goats.

Cashmere hurts animals and the environment

The discomfort of the goats is definitely not the only problem. Farmers in Mongolia and China can hardly keep up with the demand from consumers in the West. And in an attempt to satisfy our appetite for the material, producers have massively increased the size of their herds. The biomass of these domesticated animals increased 3-fold between 1990 and 2010, putting very real pressure on Central Asia’s fragile ecosystem and endangering native species. As J.Berger, et al. stated in their 2013 paper on the effects of cashmere production on Central Asia’s wildlife:

If western consumers remain ignorant to the origin of clothing products and the consequent effects borne by the native species of Central Asia, then future prospects for chiru, saiga, khulan, kiang, wild camels, and wild yaks, and even snow leopards, will become slimmer. To reverse this trend will require creative and novel alliances. (Berger, J., et al., 686-687).

But that’s the problem with the modern world’s obsession with old luxury. Instead of celebrating the incredible achievements we have made in synthetic fabrics, we continue to cling to nostalgic concepts of opulence. As a result, we remain unaware of the environmental and personal costs connected to our choices. As Berger et al. state in their article, we need to seek “creative” and “novel” solutions. We live in a modern world where new technologies impact our lives each day, and yet our society still reifies cashmere sweaters, calfskin handbags, bone china, fur coats, down comforters, and Wagyu beef.

Why? Well, if we divorce these products from the cruel reality inherent in producing them, most people still see them as timeless symbols of affluence and exclusivity. In reality, they are outdated and we are surrounded by excellent, viable alternatives. They just need better press.

In the vast scheme of things, Kit and Ace’s technical cashmere contains an almost negligible amount of wool. But that is what I find so repellent about it. The company relies on the ignorance of its customers, which it presumes are so slavishly devoted to old-world luxury that they would never stop to consider if cashmere is actually worthy of its romantic reputation.

Consumers are taught to associate cashmere with quality. No-one is educating them otherwise. Sadly, Kit and Ace is probably right. The luxury aura surrounding cashmere is what sells the product.

I’m certain Kit and Ace could make an animal-free product that was equal – if not superior to -“technical cashmere” in every way. But they have little motivation to do so when customers are willing to pay luxury prices for items containing even a small percentage of precious cashmere.

Compassionate alternatives

Fortunately, some smaller companies, are addressing this subject head-on. Vote Couture has build their brand around ethical, animal-free materials, with great success. But vegan products are still hard to find in the luxury industry. In the meantime, read labels and choosing luxurious products you love that are also animal-free. Many companies are doing this inadvertently, because they recognize how fantastic many of these new materials are. Every day I’m pleased to see more and more options available to consumers, at retailers from H&M to Holt Renfrew and Nordstrom. Take a peek at the labels and you might be surprised at the treasures you’ll uncover!

Vote with your dollars, and we can change the world. Also, please let Kit and Ace know you are interested in luxurious, animal-free fabrics, not marketing nonsense about “technical” cashmere.

 

Sources: kitandace(dot)com; BERGER, J., BUUVEIBAATAR, B. and MISHRA, C. (2013), Globalization of the Cashmere Market and the Decline of Large Mammals in Central Asia. Conservation Biology, 27: 679–689. doi: 10.1111/cobi.12100

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