I’ve given up buying cashmere, unless it’s very expensive. After reading this article in the Seattle Times, and also this, I’ve come to the decision that the environmental damage done to meet of an out-of-control rush for cheap cashmere isn’t worth it for me.

All those bargain sweaters at Costco, Macy’s, Land’s End, and your favorite department store come from fiber combed from goats living on the great steppes of Central Asia, that enormous grasslands we know as western China and Mongolia. The prodigious mushrooming of the numbers of grazing animals to meet the American market has stripped these ancient lands of their grass cover and unleashed cataclysmic dust storms that reach the shores of North America, choking cities in China on the way.

And the cashmere goats aren’t doing so well, either. Since there are so many of them, they’ve eaten the grass down to the ground and below, so they can’t find enough food. There is a reduced lifespan for goats (10 years instead of 20) reduced birthrate (to less than half of normal for the herd), and reduced fiber quality. A stressed, starving goat can’t make good fiber.

If you don’t feel like reading the articles mentioned above, Evan Osmos, the author of the first one, was one The Colbert Report recently, and here’s a link to a clip of him explaining it all . Mr. Osmos also has a photo/video piece up at the Chicago Tribune site (requires registration, but it’s free).

No, I haven’t thrown away my two nice sweaters or the shawl that is so drapey, warm, featherweight, and gorgeous. But I’m not buying more.

So what to do if you’ve got a jones for cashmere?

If you Google “American Cashmere”, you’ll find this and one of the first lines of text is “Cashmere America is out of business.” Scrolling down the list of yarns they used to have, they are annotated “Sold Out and gone forever.” But don’t give up.  Ask your LYS if they know of any non-Chinese cashmere yarn makers.  According to the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufactuer’s Institute, cashmere fiber is produced in Iran, Afganistan, New Zealand, and Australia, as well as China, Mongolia, and Tibet. Note that the yarn you see in the store might say it’s from Italy, but typically the label reflects the country of manufacture (the spinnery), rather than the origin of the raw materials. So a little research might be in order.

If you’re able to spin your own, you’re better off.  I’ve seen cashmere fiber for sale at the local St. Distaff’s Day Spin-in, and small specialty farms will have it if you go looking. This  farm in Oregon has two ounces for $25. It’s not cheap, but then, there are no hidden costs. The major fiber fairs, like Rhinebeck and Black Sheep Gathering, will have some available.

And look into other fibers. I’ve got some baby camel/silk blend roving that is like touching a cloud. Camels don’t have hard little hooves, so they can’t be as hard on the soil of a marginal land as goats are.

In conclusion, I’m not saying we should only Buy American, I’m just saying we should Buy Sustainable. If buying American from our local producers is the only way we have, then we should be willing to pay the price.