Not too long ago, cashmere was considered a rare luxury— made from the finest wools from traditional mills in Europe. As cashmere became wildly popular, suppliers started increasing production which meant raising many more goats on fragile Mongolian grasslands. However, this led to desertification and an environmental disaster in these grasslands as the sharp hooves of the goats destroyed the topsoil.
Quality also suffered as cut-price cashmere products (this is essentially a contradiction in terms as cashmere was never meant to be cheap or cut-price) flooded the market. The cheap cashmere revolution started in 2005 when import quotas were relaxed and China started exporting huge volumes of it to the EU. The lower end of the market still tends to be dominated by fibers from Chinese goats.
A fter washing, the finest, softest hair is separated from the coarser, outer guard hair. This guard hair is not considered high enough quality for many top-end manufacturers, but it is this level of quality customers will buy as cut-price cashmere. Alpaca is fast emerging as an alternative to the overexploitation of environmentally fragile grasslands in Mongolia. Alpaca comes from the South American highlands and Andes in Bolivia, Argentina but mainly Peru.
Many brands including Gucci are now offering alpaca accessories and garments. Alpaca is as luxurious and light to the feel as cashmere but its environmental impact is far less as the alpacas do not destroy the topsoil where they graze.