Cashmere is carefully combed from the underside of goats which are herded naturally on the steppes of Mongolia, China and Afghanistan. Severe winter conditions with temperatures, often below -30°C, encourage the goats to produce a light, downy undercoat which is combed out when it starts to "float" naturally in the Spring. Cashmere is the main source of income for the herders and sustains their unique nomadic way of life which has been carefully developed over hundreds of years.
Not all cashmere is equal, and we are incredibly selective in the qualities we use. We buy 24 different types of cashmere and each one is carefully selected for the properties it brings to the process. Our quality standards mean that we need to work very hard to find suppliers capable of meeting our expectations. Most of our suppliers have been working with us for decades and do not supply the mass market.
When a consumer buys low cost cashmere, which is often produced in high volume factories in China or Mongolia, they are usually buying inferior raw materials which may contain coarse or dark fibres or be too thick or too short for our standards. They may also be buying cashmere which has been heavily bleached to remove colour, a process which saves costs (darker fibres are cheaper) but also damages the fibres.
Many of these differences will be difficult to notice on the shelf. Bleaching fibres and adding softeners after processing can result in a product which feels nice when you touch it in the shop, but unfortunately, such garments will have a short lifespan when you get them home.
The art of making fine Scottish cashmere and woollen products is about being as gentle with these delicate fibres as possible. That means we add as few chemicals as can possibly be added. In this we start with a clear advantage. The same soft and slightly alkaline water which gives Scotch whisky its unique properties, is also the basis of our manufacturing process. Softness combined with alkalinity is an unusual combination and we are blessed to have it in copious quantities with a very consistent quality level.
Having such good quality water means that Scottish cashmere can be treated more gently than cashmere produced in other parts of the world. Few chemicals mean less damage to the fibre and gives rise to the expectation that fine Scottish cashmere will last a lifetime and look better over time if properly cared for. This is in sharp contrast to other regions where the cashmere is often softened artificially at the end of a process which has involved significant chemical damage to the fibre.
High speed production processes will result in greater output efficiency. However, they will also increase fibre damage and result in a weaker product with a shorter lifespan. Having paid for the very best quality raw cashmere, we like to treat it with the utmost care. Our old, belt-driven carding machines (which comb the fibre to align all the strands) may look like antiques, but they treat the fibre very gently. Throughout our process you will find the latest technology sitting beside beautiful old equipment, often with wooden components. At every stage, including dyeing, carding, spinning, weaving and finishing, the mantra is to do as little as possible, as gently as possible.
Having all our production in-house really helps. We know what goes into every stage of the process and adjusting the finish of a product can mean going right back to the original dyeing. Everything is under our control and each process has been fine-tuned by our people for over 150 years, since we first produced cashmere products in 1851. No one has more experience of processing fine cashmere and no one has more control over every stage of production. Experience counts, and over 100 of our staff have been with us for 20 years or more.
Hand Crafted for Generations
What amazes visitors to our mills in Elgin and Hawick is how much of the process is done by hand. Over two dozen hands will work on every product and at each stage you will notice the difference. You can see and feel the difference in the small things: the press of a collar, the evenness of the twisting of a fringe, the satisfying raise of a brushed cashmere scarf. These things don't happen by accident. They happen because of the collective skill of our people, the perfection of their craft and their dedication to making beautiful products.
We take those skills very seriously, training more people than any other UK textile manufacturer. One hundred of our employees have received apprenticeship qualifications already and for every employee continuous development is the expectation. Skills have been passed down from generation to generation, but we need to take care that the next generation is equally, or even more, adept.
We believe that we are making something special. The world's finest fibres can create some stunning products which are more akin to works of art than garments or accessories. However, we also adhere to good old-fashioned Scottish values of practicality. Fine cashmere is incredibly warm but lightweight, easy to wear and versatile in your wardrobe. It's as far away from disposable 'fast fashion' as you can get. Scottish cashmere is the real thing. The best quality cashmere in the world.