A trip to the sustainable sweater farm
When I started this company, I endeavored to source and produce all the garments in the U.S. in order to support small businesses and our economy. Those are good aims, but it turns out doing so also contributes to more sustainable fashion. Win-Win!
While I was able to source cotton for the Joey pocket-tee and denim for the Cody work shirt from Los Angeles, I couldn't find a U.S cashmere source for the Maxwell sweater. I bought mine from a US-based mill, but they sourced the cashmere itself from Mongolia.
I mentioned my plight to good friend Jancy Quinn of @itmatterswear, a sustainable fashion consultancy. She connected me with her friend Marissa Taylor, a cattle rancher at Lonetree Ranch in Wyoming who just happened to be exploring how to process the cashmere from the small herd of goats she keeps as part of her land management strategy (goats like to eat weeds, you see).
The biggest challenge Taylor faces is getting the cashmere off the goats and turned into yarn. Because it's hard to find cashmere yarn sourced from the U.S, it's also hard to find the skilled workers to extract the hair or mills to process it. Cashmere goats are cold-weather animals (the cashmere undercoat grows in response to shorter, colder days), so the cashmere must be brushed out, not sheared like wool. Shearing off the cashmere removes the goat's outer coat and leaves them vulnerable to the cold. They naturally shed their cashmere when it gets warmer, so the trick is getting it brushed out at just the right time.
Back at the ranch, we spent a few hours brushing some of the goats and extracting their incredibly soft hair. It's time intensive work and the output is small - each goat's annual yield is only about 4 ounces. You begin to understand why cashmere is so expensive when you realize it then takes hair from 4-5 goats to make just one large sweater.
For now, we are collectively working on the problem - joining facebook groups, visiting mills, doing research - and figuring out next steps. The hope is that I'll be able to produce one of the next runs of the Maxwell Sweater entirely from US-based cashmere from Lonetree Ranch. Stay tuned . . .