The uncomfortable hidden costs behind the rise in cheap cashmere
The coveted material known for its luxurious softness has become much more accessible and affordable in recent years. But at what cost?
Who are they? Well, the fellers providing the goods are cashmere goats, many of whom live in parts of Central Asia, like northern China and Mongolia.
What's the big deal? Like many other trends in fashion and accessibility,acquiring cashmere used to require more of an investment. Nowadays, you can get it much cheaper. But there are hidden costs elsewhere, says Ginger Allington, a landscape ecologist and assistant professor at Cornell.
Want more on consumer reporting? Listen to Consider This reflect on how much Americans are spending.
What are people saying? Allington wrote an op-ed for The New York Times about the true cost of cashmere. She spoke with All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly to explain what consumers may not be aware of when purchasing cashmere goods.
On habitat degradation she's witnessed firsthand:
We see a big change in the grasslands of [the Central Asian steppes]. There's a lot less vegetation, a lot more exposed soils, particularly in areas where there is a huge increase in the number of livestock.
And to be clear, goats have been raised in this area for a long time as well, but there are just many, many more of them than there used to be. And goats are much more efficient browsers and grazers than some of the other livestock that are traditionally grown in this region. They can really remove a lot more of the vegetation down to the roots. And so that just further degrades the system.
On whether the current rate of cashmere consumption is sustainable:
Honestly, I don't know that there is a way to sustainably produce cashmere at the scale at which we're consuming it today.
I think demand needs to go down for that particular fiber such that herders can produce less of it at a higher quality. And that needs to be then balanced out by increased demand for other fibers as well. You can produce great products from camels and yaks and sheep.
So, what now?
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