Cashmere—long regarded as a luxuriously soft and correspondingly expensive fabric—is made from the wool of a special breed of goat. Known for centuries in Asia and the Middle East, pashmina wool was first introduced to the western fashion masses early in the 21st century. While both terms describe the same product, fraud and misrepresentation have lead to confusion and controversy.
Goat herders in Kashmir call the wool they collect from their herds "pashm." The term "pashmina" is the local word for the fine pashm after it has been combed, cleaned and spun into yarn. The soft, warm yarn is prized throughout the world, particularly when woven into shawls. Clothing marketed as pashmina may be made of 100 percent pashmina wool or it may be blended with other luxurious fibers such as silk. If blended, reputable sources will declare the percentage of each fiber present in the fabric.
The Cashmere and Camel Hair Institute defines cashmere as "the fine (dehaired) undercoat fibers produced by a Cashmere goat (Capra hircus laniger)." The institute further qualifies that cashmere fibers must be 19 microns or less in diameter, and that no more than 3 percent may be 30 microns or larger. The term "cashmere" is an English derivative of "Kashmir," the name of the region from which the fiber was originally exported. Surrounded by the fiber-producing nations of China, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal, Kashmir's high mountain pastures form the heart of cashmere production.
Confusion And Controversy
Much of the confusion over the true nature of pashmina and cashmere can be attributed to unscrupulous advertising. The term "pashmina" refers to the same wool as the term "cashmere." The fiber is harvested from the same goats, and it is cleaned and combed to create the same yarn. The only difference is that for centuries, westerners have referred to the wool by a regional name—Kashmir/Cashmere—instead of the proper name, "pashmina." Naive or misinformed vendors may assert the falsehood that pashmina comes from only certain locations of the goat's body. Likewise, some cashmere manufacturers may blend sheep's wool into their yarn, a practice that degrades the softness of the fabric and creates the impression of coarseness in comparison with pure cashmere or pashmina.