Resources

QUESTIONS

What is cashmere? 

Cashmere is the downy under layer of hair on a goat. This downy undercoat grows over the whole body, with the exception of the face and legs, and helps protect goats through harsh winters that can drop as low as -40°C.

Where does cashmere come from?

Almost all cashmere comes from the Central and East Asian steppe, which provide the ideal cold and dry conditions for producing high-quality fibre. Mongolia and China are the biggest producers, contributing approximately 85% of the world’s supply. Other cashmere-producing nations include Afghanistan, Iran Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, India and Turkey.

How is cashmere processed?

Raw (or ‘greasy’) cashmere fibre is combed or shorn by herders after the spring moult. Herders sell bags of cashmere to traders, who then sell them onto processing factories. The fibre is sorted by quality and colour, scoured (washed) to remove dirt and impurities, and then ‘de-haired’ to remove the course outer hair from the fine downy underlayer. The clean cashmere is then spun into yarn and woven or knitted into finished garments around the world.

Why is current cashmere production not sustainable?

Rising goat numbers, changing land use practices and poor rangeland governance are leading to overgrazed and degraded pastures. This is having negative impacts on rangeland resources, including native wildlife, as well as increasing the vulnerability of herder livelihoods.

What do we mean by ‘Sustainable Cashmere’?

As a concept, we believe that sustainable cashmere should incorporate aspects of environmental, social and economic sustainability. We also see animal welfare as an integral component of sustainability. In this view, sustainable cashmere production would a) not impede the protection of natural resources, including wildlife, b) provide a secure livelihood for local herders and c) ensure the long-term viability of the global cashmere industry.

How can standards help?

Credible certification standards provide a promising and practical solution for many of the sustainability challenges we face today. They provide a mechanism for encouraging the adoption of sustainable practices and contributing to the transformation of commodity sectors. Credible standards how to achieve more sustainable production practices and set requirements that demonstrate compliance with these practices. As well as contributing to the Sustainable Development Goals, standards can bring real benefits for the private sector by demonstrating a business’s commitment to sustainability and by helping consumers purchase products that have been responsibly produced.

Do goats moult? 

Goats moult their undercoat once a year, in spring. Moulting is triggered by the spring grass and combing helps remove hair that would otherwise fall out naturally.

How do herders know how to harvest the cashmere? 

Combing cannot begin until the time is right. Herders must wait for the natural moulting process to begin before they start combing. By looking at their hair, herders can tell whether a goat is ready for its hair to be harvested. If the fibre hasn’t loosened it will not come away easily on the comb and the combing process will be uncomfortable for the goat and difficult and inefficient for the herder.

Is Inner Mongolia part of Mongolia?

Confusingly, no. Inner Mongolia is a region of China in the Gobi that borders with Mongolia (the country). The nation of Mongolia is often referred to as Outer Mongolia. The reason for this naming confusion is because Inner Mongolia used to belong to Mongolia. When China gained control of this southern Mongolian region, it became known as Inner Mongolia and the rest of the country as Outer Mongolia (although the official name of the country is Mongolia). While Mongolia and Inner Mongolia share a cultural history, the last few decades have seen vast differences develop in livestock production practices.

What’s the difference between cashmere from Mongolia and China?

Cashmere production practices vary considerably between the two major cashmere producing nations. Mongolian cashmere is generally what we call ‘herded cashmere’. Mongolian herders are semi-nomadic, shifting between seasonal campsites and grazing their herds on open, unfenced and communally owned rangelands. In contrast, cashmere production across the border is generally more intensive. Herders in China are no longer nomadic and now graze their goats on privately owned, fenced pastures, which are better described as ‘cashmere farms’. On these farms, the grazing pasture is not always sufficient to last the full year and goats are often brought indoors and fed hay over the winter months. While Mongolian cashmere is typically harvested by hand using combs, in China the use of electrical shears is more common.

How is cashmere harvested?

Fibre harvesting is when the goats’ hair is combed or shorn. In Mongolia, goats are combed by hand to remove the fine ‘winter undercoat’ and leave the outer ‘guard hair’ to help protect them from the elements. Goats with particularly long outer coats are sometimes trimmed with scissors prior to combing to reduce snagging and allow for easier removal of the fibre.

In the Inner Mongolian region of China, farmers typically use electronic shears which remove both the cashmere and the outer guard hair. This method is appropriate in this context as goats are provided with shelter to keep warm.

When is the cashmere season?

The cashmere season starts in spring after goats begin to moult due to the warmer weather. In Mongolia the cashmere season starts in the East and moves to the West. Being the first to the market, herders in the East are often able to fetch a higher price for their fibre. In China, goats are typically shorn in the spring once the weather is warmer.

Does combing or shearing injure the goats?

Done responsibly, combing or shearing do not injure goats.  If the right level of care is taken and the right techniques are used, neither method need be a painful or distressing experience for goats.  We are confident that by following the practices outlined in the SFA Animal Husbandry and Fibre Harvesting Code of Practice, herders can ensure high welfare standards for their cashmere goats.

What does it mean to be an SFA Member?
SFA Members pay an annual subscription fee which provides them exclusive access to influence and benefit from the SFA Cashmere Standard. At present, SFA members can only make general marketing claims about supporting our work in Mongolia and China. With consumer awareness about sustainability on the rise, SFA membership also demonstrates your company’s commitment to sustainable cashmere supply chain. SFA Members cannot currently make product-based claims regarding the content of SFA-Certified fibre in their products. This is because SFA is still testing our chain of custody system, so no product-based claims are currently allowed.

 

If I have a Certificate of Membership, does this mean I am SFA-Certified?

No. A Certificate of Membership is proof of your status as a member of the SFA. It does not represent certification against the SFA Cashmere Standard. Your Certificate of Membership should not be used in a way that implies you are accredited by SFA, as this would represent a violation of our Claims Framework.

For first-stage processing plants (scouring and dehairing) that are SFA Members, it is possible to hold Certificate of Membership and a Certificate of Accreditation following an independent assessment against the requirements of the Clean Fibre Processing Standard.

How does my company become SFA-certified?

So far we offer accreditation to herder organisations and first-stage processors (scouring and dehairing of cashmere fibre). Herders are certified against the SFA Cashmere Standard, while processors are certified against the SFA Clean Fibre Processing Standard. To become SFA accredited, herder organisations and processing plants must be audited by an independent assessment team.

In 2020, accreditation is only available in Mongolia. From 2021, we hope to offer accreditation to goat farms and first-stage processors in China. Please contact us if you are a herder organisation or cashmere processing plant who is interested in becoming SFA accredited.

 

How do I find out which cashmere producers are SFA-Certified?

SFA members can visit the SFA Register for a list of herder organisations and processors that have been audited and certified against the SFA Cashmere Standard, as well as those that have signed up to the Register and have committed to being assessed in the following year. The SFA Register is a benefit of membership and not available to the general public.

What claims can we make as an SFA Member?

You can start making claims as soon as your SFA membership has been approved. General marketing claims can be used by all members on your website and marketing materials to demonstrate your support of the SFA’s mission and our work on the ground to improve the sustainability of cashmere. Permitted claim statements include:

  • “We (or name of the organisation) is/are a proud member of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance/SFA”
  • “We (or name of the organisation) are/is committed to improving cashmere production practices globally with the Sustainable Fibre Alliance/SFA.”
  • “We (or name of the organisation) is/are member of the Sustainable Fibre Alliance and supports the responsible production of cashmere. The SFA works with herding communities and domestic industry, providing training in rangeland stewardship, animal welfare and clean fibre processing. With the SFA Cashmere Standard, we promote production practices that are better for people, animals and the environment to help ensure the long-term viability of the cashmere sector”.

Detailed information about claims allowed for SFA members is outlined in the SFA Claims Framework. Please contact us if you have any queries about the claims you can make related to your membership.

I’m not a member of the SFA, how much is the Chain of Custody registration fee?

Registration on the SFA Chain of Custody (CoC) is currently £500, including all the sites that you operate. If there are additional audit requirements that you need to meet (per our CoC guidance), you will be responsible for any non-SFA costs associated with these.

I’m a supporter member of the SFA, do I pay a CoC registration fee or not?

We will be looking at this on a case-by-case basis. Please contact membership@sustainablefibre.org and we will be happy to discuss your specific circumstances.

I registered on the CoC as a full member of the SFA, but my membership is going to expire. What do I do?

We will be looking at instances of this on a case by-case basis. When we contact you with a reminder about your membership’s impending expiry (usually 2-3 months before it happens), we will let you know what will happen regarding your CoC registration if you don’t renew your membership.

Is the CoC registration fee annual, or a one-off?

The CoC registration fee is annual, covering the calendar year in which you pay it.

I paid and registered at the end of the year/didn’t make any transactions of SFA Certified fibre this year, can I get a refund?

No – but your fee will roll over into the next calendar year. This will continue until we process a transaction involving one of your sites. Please note that we will use the date of the transaction itself, not the date of the request in our system, to determine which year your fee first applies to. For example, if you pay and register in December 2021, but make no transactions until May 2022, the fee you paid in 2021 will apply to 2022, and you will need to pay another £500 to remain registered in 2023.

If, however, you pay and register in May 2022, have no transactions processed in our system until September 2023, but then have transactions for 2022 and 2023 submitted, the fee you have paid will count against 2022, and you will need to pay the fee for 2023 before those TCs are issued.

I submitted incorrect information or need to make an amendment to the submitted information. What should I do?

Please contact membership@sustainablefibre.org with details of the information that is incorrect, and what it should be amended to. If you know the SFA ID of the affected account, please include that information. If it is for a submitted registration that is still processing, please give us as much information as you can to ensure we update the correct account.

I need specific a specific colour/length/micron/other of fibre, can you help?

Unfortunately not at this time. Cashmere Connect may have some of this information (such as colour) if we have specifically been informed of it, but otherwise you will need to use the contact information provided on that platform to get in touch with other CoC participants about the fibre they can source/provide to you.

What volumes of SFA Certified fibre are available? Who has it?

Our system is based on information received only after fibre is sold, as such we are unable to provide up-to-date information. As with fibre characteristics, you will need to use the contact information provided on Cashmere Connect to get in touch with other CoC participants about the fibre they can source/provide to you.

I contacted x, but haven’t heard anything back, can you ask them to contact me?

When time and capacity permit, we will do our best to facilitate communication between our members and our CoC participants, however, we cannot guarantee timely (or any) responses from third parties.

Where can I find the list of suppliers and quantities of certified fibre available from Mongolia?

Companies are encouraged to work with and pull certified fibre through their existing supply chains. All SFA Members and participants in the Chain of Custody will have access to cashmere connect, which lists all of the herders and first-stage processing plants that have been certified against the SFA Cashmere Standard. This database also contains contact details for participants in the Chain of Custody and full SFA Members.

What are the any additional costs associated with the CoC?

Those companies which need a scope certificate to be able to sell certified fibre (i.e. those companies up to the last B2B transaction) will need to undergo an audit in Textile Exchange’s Content Claims Standard (CCS). The companies are responsible for these costs. The certificating bodies set their own prices, but as a rough figure, a straightforward audit on a single site can cost around £1500 (excluding any travel costs).

Why do I need to be audited?

The SFA certifies fibre at herder level and at first stage processing level (in Mongolia). After this stage the SFA are using Textile Exchange’s Content Claims Standard (CCS) to verify the correct controls and processes to ensure certified fibre is kept separate and not blended in an uncontrolled manner. An independent certification body monitors the flow of the material through the supply chain up to the last business business transaction.

I’m a retailer, do I need to be audited?

If you solely sell directly to consumers and make no further B2B transactions of the certified goods, then under the current version of Content Claims Standard, you do not need to be audited.

Who carries out the audit?

Organisations outside of Mongolia have a choice of one of three certification bodies.

  • fcostantini@controlunion.com
  • paolo.foglia@icea.bio
  • jingyi.jiang@intertek.com
  • Jia.yan@ecocert.cn

How do I know the fibre I have bought is certified?

For an organisation to sell certified fibre they need to be in possession of a scope certificate. Cashmere Connect will show whether they are in possession of one. Both parties in each validated transaction of fibre will be issued a transaction certificate (TC), therefore the organisation you are buying from should be in possession of a TC for the purchase of certified fibre.

When do I have to register my purchase of certified goods with my Certification Body?

In order to ensure the smooth flow of certified goods along your supply chain, we ask that participants log their purchases of fibre as soon as possible after receipt of goods. All transaction receipts must be entered within 6 months of purchase.

What claims can I make about the certified goods I bought?

Our Claims Guidance and Visual Claims Guidance (info on logos) documents can be found in the claims framework section of our Resources pages, on our main website and Cashmere Connect.

Where do we order labels for our certified goods?

We are allowing companies to produce their own ‘SFA Certified’ labels, using their usual supply chains, as long as the claims and logos used comply with our Claims Guidance. Labels must be attached by a holder of a scope certificate.

Why do we need the SFA Clean Fibre Processing Standard? 

The SFA developed this standard to reduce the environmental impact of cashmere fibre processing. We wanted to ensure that harmful chemicals, specifically alkylphenol ethoxylates (APEOs), are eliminated from the scouring (washing) and dehairing process.

 

The use of APEOs has been banned by manufacturers in the European Union for many years. However, now this ban also covers textiles that are manufactured outside the EU and imported in.

 

A code of practice for the scouring and dehairing process is critical since it is currently a largely unregulated process. Without it, manufacturers, brands and retailers, further down the supply chain may test imported fabrics, only to discover that APEOs have been used at this initial stage of processing. This has both legal implications and impacts the claims that can be made regarding the sustainability of the product.

 

What are APEOs?

APEOs are common agents used in the textile industry and include NPEOs (nonylphenol ethoxylates) and OPEOs (octylphenol ethoxylates), which are known for their cleaning properties. NPEOs are the most ubiquitous across the industry and are commonly used as detergents in the scouring of raw (greasy) cashmere fibre.

 

These cleaning agents are pollutants that are discharged by factories and washed out of the final products. They end up in the environment where they are are highly toxic to aquatic organisms, affecting the fertility of fish and other organisms and impairing aquatic ecosystems. AEPOs are also known to have adverse effects on human fertility.

 

It is a minimum requirement of the Clean Fibre Processing Code of Practice that processing plants do not use hazardous substances.

 

What is the scope of the SFA Clean Fibre Processing Standard?

As well as controlling the use of chemicals, the Clean Fibre Processing Standard also encourages other environmentally-responsible practices such as efficient use of water and energy to combat air pollution and climate change.

 

The standard also monitors labour and business practices, ensuring respectful and secure working environments where people are safe and treated fairly. In combination with the SFA Cashmere Standard, it provides a tool for cashmere processors to demonstrate that their fibre is both sourced and processed in a way which values people, livestock and the environment.

 

How has the Clean Fibre Processing Standard been developed?

To create the standard, a Standards System Improvement Committee (SSIC) was formed, that represents all potential stakeholders, including industry representatives, environmental experts and human resource practitioners.

 

The SSIC developed the key components and related requirements of the original Clean Fibre Code of Practice, taking into account best practice with consideration of regulatory requirements and the need for realistic and auditable criteria.

 

What process does the SFA Clean Fibre Processing Standard cover?

The standard can be applied to processing plants that sort, prepare scour and/or dehair cashmere fibre along with the environmental, social and supply chain elements of the business that run alongside these operations. It is split into different units for each of these processes, and processing plants must achieve compliance in all units that are relevant to its function.

 

Compliance is based on continual improvement and is ranked bronze (minimum requirements met), silver and gold (fully compliant with requirements). 

 

The SFA Clean Fibre Processing Standard is not intended to replace the legal or regulatory requirements of any country. It is the responsibility of each operation to demonstrate compliance with all applicable laws and regulations related to marketing, labour, and business practices.

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