New Zealand's fledgling cashmere industry, which has its roots in South Otago, has reached a significant milestone, as Sally Rae reports.

Production of the first pilot New Zealand-grown cashmere garments is being heralded as a milestone in the country's fledgling cashmere industry.

In January, New Zealand Cashmere — formed by Clinton farmers David and Robyn Shaw — announced a partnership with Christchurch-based sustainable lifestyle fashion brand Untouched World and Wellington-based Woolyarns to commercialise a market for New Zealand-grown cashmere.

This week, Untouched World is launching a retail store in Wanaka and those first garments will be on display.

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Mr Shaw described it as a "major milestone" and step in developing the super-premium farming option. It was the culmination of 35 years of breeding and the past three years of research and development.

Cashmere is the winter undercoat from goats and can be as fine as 12 micron. The garments on display were from 15 micron fibre.It now provided a new opportunity for farmers to capture access to a super-premium fibre market for regions outside the traditional merino range, he said.

Untouched World founder Peri Drysdale said the cashmere fibre came out "pretty well' and, while there was still a lot of research and development to be done "for the first one, it was lovely".

The opportunity to have a New Zealand-grown fibre processed and knitted while not leaving the country was "extraordinary".
There were problems in international cashmere production, for which most of the fibre came from China and Mongolia and a little from India.

With a dramatic increase in demand for the fibre, thanks to the casualisation of luxury fashion, farmers in those countries had increased their stocking rates.

That had damaged the pasture to the point where the fibre quality decreased and some brands were saying they would not buy cashmere from there any more as they did not like the environmental impacts, Mrs Drysdale said.

The market was very interested in transparency and traceability which fitted in well with the New Zealand story. Volume was now the "huge" issue, she said.

Mr Shaw was endeavouring to attract more farmers into the industry, saying they could build up numbers off foundation does very quickly and there was an opportunity to integrate a few goats into their farming system.

The first target market was those who already had goats. About 100,000 goats were killed off New Zealand farms each year so the base animals were there if farmers considered containing some and introducing some better genetics.

Goats ticked most of the environmental hurdles; they stayed out of waterways, ate a lot of weedy species in pasture and did not eat clover. Management was required to farm them.
"Goats are not sheep and they require different techniques to keep them where you want them but they are very intelligent," he said.

The market New Zealand Cashmere was working with now could handle several tonnes of fibre and probably about 25,000 goats were needed to fill it.

Goats were competitive when stacked up against sheep. New Zealand Cashmere's base animals produced between $20 and $40 for fibre, the top animals around $50, he said.

Another advantage was goats survived quite happily outside the traditional merino environment, which opened up a whole different area of New Zealand to produce noble fibre, he said.

The market for cashmere was growing — it was about $4 billion in its own right, out of a $60 billion fibre market internationally. It was growing at just under 4% annually.

More high net worth consumers were seeking to buy quality garments. Recently, people had been increasingly questioning the food they consumed, and he believed the same thing was coming for clothing.