The Host, one of my favourite Indian restaurants, used to have gosht masaledar on the menu — a goat stew with a mellow yet deep blend of spices. I miss it.
Just for the sake of flogging the dead goat (since this was hashed out two years ago online, and again now), before we wait for further developments in the lawsuit let’s recap what we, the innocent and unsuspecting public, know about cashmere and wool:
(And in the meantime, here’s the second half of the complaint, which sets out the causes of action in necessarily exhaustive detail (no exhibits included).)
1. Cashmere and wool come from different animals.
2. The fibers may appear similar, but with close scrutiny they are distinguishable.
Here’s a scan from page 12 of Vogue Knitting (the 1989 edition), showing magnified longitudinal views of keratin fibers (this is an excerpt; the entire picture in the book shows other fibers).
You can readily see differences between the fine wool, cashmere, and alpaca in the arrangement and configuration of the scales. In this picture, we don’t know the magnification factors, nor do we know the size (fineness, in microns) of each of these fibers; the coarse wool ought to be thicker than either the fine wool or cashmere, and so it is in this picture. We also know (see below) that fineness-wise, fine wool and cashmere can be in the same ballpark, while alpaca is a bit thicker than cashmere on average. I do know, based on information published by the American Association of Textile Chemists and Colorists (AATCC) (you don’t, because I’m not reproducing the photographs here) that the scales on cashmere are discernible at 240X magnification, thanks to the relative distance between the scales; at 240X, it is difficult to discern the scales on alpaca (look how close they are in the Vogue Knitting picture above, compared to cashmere). At 500X, you can see the scales on wool (not certain what fineness), but not as clearly as in the Vogue Knitting picture. I’m guessing that what we can see in Vogue Knitting is at least 1000X magnification.
Now, some wool is just as fine as cashmere. But the technology is available to “stretch” wool fibers so that they wind up feeling as soft as cashmere, too. This is Optim wool, produced using a technique that alters the structure of the wool, at the same time reducing its micron count and increasing its staple length. The resultant wool can feel very much like cashmere. (Apparently there are different machines and processes for producing stretched wool; Optim wool is produced using the Optim process, presumably.)
I don’t know the market prices for Optim or cashmere fibers, but if we go by the retail prices of undyed tops for spinners, cashmere currently seems to run at about $160/lb and up (Paradise Fibers has cashmere down for $89/lb). Optim is about $128/lb and up. Optim is thus cheaper, but is that cheap enough and is there sufficient supply to make it a cost-effective substitute if one were to… well, allegedly defraud customers?
I had bought a ball of SWTC’s Optimum yarn to try it out (it seems to be discontinued). It is quite soft, and I’m sure a lot of people would think it felt like cashmere. But what does it look like under a microscope? If the fiber is stretched, what would the scales look like?
This is the only example I’ve found, and I’m so happy that Liu et al. decided to include this in their paper:
From Liu et al., Characterization of Secondary Structure Transformation of Stretched and Slenderized Wool Fibers with FTIR Spectra, Journal of Engineered Fibers and Fabrics, Volume 3, Issue 2, 2008 (www.jeffjournal.org)
3. Even if you can’t tell the difference between the scales of wool and cashmere, you can distinguish wool or cashmere from acrylic.
Again, sorry, I’m not reproducing the pictures, but there are different methods of producing acrylic fibers, and while the results each look a little different, I’m pretty sure I, with my untrained eyes, can distinguish between an acrylic fiber and a wool or cashmere fiber (or a stretched wool fiber!) at 500X, maybe lower, like 300-400X. I might be less certain about acrylic vs. alpaca at a low magnification level, because it’s harder to see the alpaca scales. I don’t know, because the photographs I’m looking at have probably been a little compressed or otherwise digitally munged from what I’d actually see through a microscope.
4. Also, you can tell the difference between keratin and acrylic fibers chemically. For example, keratin fibers are soluble in sodium hypochlorite, whereas acrylic is not — meaning, that if you follow all of those proper procedures for weighing, cleaning, and drying samples you learned in undergrad chemistry, you can mix up a weighed sample of your yarn in NaOCl until everything that’s going to dissolve has dissolved; filter out, wash and dry the residue; then weigh the result to figure out how much acrylic was in there to begin with. (There are a number of reagents that can be used for a number of different suspected blends; you would select your reagent and methodology based on the fiber types you are trying to detect or measure. The AATCC test methodology (20A-2007) for this provides a table that identifies the best method/reagent for different fiber compositions.)
5. Ignoring any legal definitions, wool is generally available in a large range of thicknesses — a fineness of 10 to 70 microns. Cashmere may be anywhere from 5 to 30 microns, and alpaca (for comparison) from 10 to 50. The average cashmere diameter is 15 to 18.5 microns (AATCC, test methodology 20-2007). The point being, you can have “cashmere”, wherein “cashmere” is the stuff you get from the right sort of goat, that is thicker than wool from a sheep…
6. However, for the purposes of labelling in the U.S. there is a legal definition of what doesn’t constitute “cashmere”. Edit: I was just reminded that this was effective January 1, 2007; prior to that, there was no such definition codified in the law. The yarns at issue in this lawsuit, of course, were first released prior to 2007.)
15 U.S.C. 68(b): A wool product shall be misbranded…
(6) In the case of a wool product stamped, tagged, labeled, or otherwise identified as cashmere, if–
(A) such wool product is not the fine (dehaired) undercoat fibers produced by a cashmere goat (capra hircus laniger);
(B) the average diameter of the fiber of such wool product exceeds 19 microns; or
(C) such wool product contains more than 3 percent (by weight) of cashmere fibers with average diameters that exceed 30 microns.
The average fiber diameter may be subject to a coefficient of variation around the mean that shall not exceed 24 percent.
(“Wool” includes cashmere, and “wool product” is defined to mean “any product, or any portion of a product, which contains, purports to contain, or in any way is represented as containing wool or recycled wool”.)
This is the definition paraphrased on the Cashmere and Camel Hair Manufacturer’s Institute (CMMI) website.
Somebody, please tell me that in Canada there is more to the definition of “cashmere” under the Textile Labelling and Advertising Regulations than “a textile fibre that is obtained from… Kashmir goats”. The Canadian Cashmere Producers Association doesn’t mention any quantitative standard for Canada.
Next, a comparison of the test results we know about…