Section 1.72: Alpaca Compared to Cashmere

Alpaca are renowned for producing the world’s most sustainable luxury fiber. Alpaca Fiber can be eco-friendly, softer than cashmere, and warm as polar bear fleece.

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Alpaca Fiber Compared to Cashmere

Cashmere fiber comes from goats. There are no “purebred” Cashmere; rather goats that produce a downy undercoat of 19 microns or less qualify as Cashmere goats. Some breeds of goats tend to produce naturally finer fiber and it is those goats that often are selectively bred to produce cashmere. Goats are a two-coated animals and, whether the fiber is harvested by shearing or combing, a large number of thick primary fibers will necessarily be harvested together with the soft, fine undercoat. As a result, these fleeces must be dehaired during processing in order to meet the 19-micron standard required for cashmere. 

Note: Recently, the American Cashmere growers raised the standard for fineness from 19 microns to 17 microns! They are committed to marketing a better product for a better price. We alpaca breeders should take note of this. Quality and consistency, in our niche market, is everything. 

Note: The American cashmere industry no longer has industrial mills to dehair and process its fiber. The big mills are all offshore now. American cashmere breeders are forced to use mini mills for processing. While the American cashmere industry was once an important part of the American market, that is not the case today. Foreign competition has eroded profits. This can serve as a lesson for alpaca breeders – where are our North American industrial mills, our co-ops, and, most importantly, the active and assertive support of our breeders. What do you do with your fiber? 

Cashmere is a very silky, soft fiber that is either combed or shorn from the Cashmere goat. It insulates well, drapes well, and resists wrinkling. American cashmere has been very costly, due to its limited supply. Recently, however, cashmere products have become much more affordable to the average consumer as a result of the large amount of cashmere being harvested and processed in China for sale in the world market. Environmentalists and scientists, however, have begun sounding the alarm about the impact of large herds of Cashmere goats in China, as lands are being overgrazed, increasing desertification of the area.

  • Cashmere is softer than most alpaca (for now!).
  • Cashmere must be less than 19 microns (with only 3% > 30 microns) to be called cashmere. Baby alpaca approaches this level.
  • Cashmere is an established industry with a long history and experience in marketing and manufacturing,. Unfortunately, many cashmere customers have never heard of alpaca.
  • Cashmere is available in far fewer natural colors than alpaca, requiring dying for added choices. Some say dye damages fiber. It certainly diminishes the natural brightness of alpaca fiber. Although cashmere is easily dyed, adding chemical dyes to the process eliminates the ability to label the product as “natural or green.”
  • Cashmere’s thermal insulation abilities are not thought to be any different than alpaca. Rather, insulating qualities depend on the application and a variety of manufacturing factors.
  • Cashmere is not as wrinkle resistant as alpaca.
  • Given like quality fiber and processing techniques, alpaca pills less than cashmere, even at the lowest micron counts Pilling is a function of the number of hair ends in a length of yarn and is not related to fineness. Wool products from China, with high micron counts, pilled and matted very quickly, which created a huge PR problem for the wool industry back in the 80’s and 90’s. Pilling is closely related to the minimum and maximum lengths of fibers used in a process.
  • Cashmere, like alpaca, absorbs almost no moisture.
  • It is not clear whether cashmere is more susceptible to shrinking than alpaca. Shrinkage of alpaca in a product is more a function of spinning tension than anything else. So, alpaca may or may not shrink less than cashmere. It will depend on the application. 
  • It is generally recommended that cashmere be dry cleaned only. Alpaca, on the other hand, may be hand-washed (and sometimes machine-washed), making it easier to care for than cashmere.
  • Cashmere tends to lose its luster after a couple of years, while alpaca (especially Suri) seem to glow forever.
  • Cashmere does have crimp and is compared to alpaca in this respect as well as for fineness.
  • Cashmere fibers, like Vicuna fiber, are relatively short, averaging 1.5 inches in length.
  • Cashmere wool is ideal for wearing in all types of climates because it has a high moisture content, which allows its insulating properties to change along with the relative humidity in the air.
  • Cashmere does not hold up as well as alpaca to hard wear because of its extremely soft, downy finish.
  • Cashmere is not only soft and silky, but also very lightweight. It results in a luxurious fabric, both in terms of appearance and feel.

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