Despite the plethora of cashmere now produced in China and Mongolia, both in terms of raw material and finished garments, Italian cashmere still holds greater cache than its eastern counterparts.
The establishment of the European Fine Fibre network in the 1990s was designed to broaden the scope of cashmere producing countries. However the extreme weather conditions in China and Mongolia, which is conducive to the growth of the soft down of the cashmere producing goat, still makes this region the best for the quality of the raw material. As a result most of the cashmere clothing and accessories carrying the label ‘Made In Italy’ uses raw material originating from China and Mongolia.
So why is Italian cashmere considered one of the best?
Italy’s position as one of the world’s premier cashmere producers can be traced back to the 12th century when it was a major wool based textile centre in Europe, along with England, Belgium and Holland. From the 12th the 18th century the regions of Florence, Venice, Milan and Genoa were established as industrial centres of excellence in the spinning and weaving of woollen yarns.
During this period, Italian merchants were also given roles as papal tax collectors which helped consolidate their financial position and establish trade networks throughout Europe.
The industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th centuries not only allowed for production on a large scale but also created increased consumer demand which further consolidated the status of Italian cashmere industry.
Building on an established heritage in textiles, the post war Italian government made concerted efforts to promote the Italian fashion industry in order to regain Italy’s national reputation which had been damaged by her involvement in the war. With its roots in the renaissance, the new Italian state saw the fashion industry as a development of its cultural and artistic past and a vehicle which could harness a new consumer awareness and demand.
With brands such as Loro Piana, Brioni, Zegna and Ferragamo established in the first half of the 20th century, the skills and infrastructure were already in place to support the strategy of Italy as a centre of excellence for fashion and design.
Coupled with its heritage, Italy holds a natural advantage over many other cashmere producing countries. The water used to treat the cashmere as part of the finishing process has a neutral PH which adds further softness to the fabric. This is also the case with Scottish cashmere.
All these factors have elevated the global reputation of Italian cashmere above many other countries. The best raw material, coupled with first class weaving and finishing techniques, and of course excellent design, are the differentiators which ensure the highest quality of the finished garment.