About our fabrics
Mongolian Cashmere fiber is an average of 16.2 microns, a bit thicker than Chinese cashmere, which is in the 15.5 micron range as an average. The Mongolian cashmere strand, however, is 42mm in average length, as opposed to 34mm for the Chinese strand. This is where the big difference can be found.
It is doubtful that anyone can feel a difference due to microns, more likely the difference is due to the wash or post-knit ironing. But an inescapable fact is that a short fiber strand is the number one cause of pilling in cashmere garments and a main reason that your Mongolian cashmere garment will give you 5 years or more of quality life, whereas non-Mongolian, shorter strand cashmere will last perhaps two years with average use, until pilling renders the garment un-usable.
Make no mistake, a cashmere garment has a life-cycle. The Mongolian cashmere garment simply holds its shape and looks beautiful much longer.
Of course there are a huge number of factors that go into how a cashmere garment feels. Feel, or 'hand', is not an indicator of quality (which includes the quality of the water used in production, the carding and spinning processes, the skill and experience of workers, age and maintenance of machines used etc).
One factor that does affect the hand of a garment is the dye that is used (organic or chemical). Our partners use organic dyes from Switzerland. Chinese made garments use chemical dyes from Zhaotong. Darker dyes render the garment less soft than lighter dyes. Mills that filter their water produce cashmere with a better hand than those that do not- but the water must be filtered at the beginning of the process, even before carding- filtering the water before spinning but not before washing (done after carding) is futile (water is used in the spinning process to generate humidity which makes the yarn spin easier).
Another contributor to the softness (and quality such as fiber strength and uniformity) of a cashmere garment is the spinning process. Both of the partners from which we source our cashmere use either a unique spinning process (called 'mule-spun',- more on that later in blog posts) or are spinning specialists, such as Cashmere Concepts, whose spinning has been deemed by Italian engineers to be 'on par' with many Italian spun yarns.
A thinner knit cashmere garment could be 16 gauge (or higher) an indication that even it is made in Mongolia, the yarn comes from China. That means that the raw material (short strand), carding (or 'de-hairing'), washing, possibly dying, and spinning and stabilizing is done in China. All these factors contribute to the quality of the yarn. China does import huge quantities of long-strand Mongolian raw cashmere and does spin them into yarns, and so there is a grey area where the raw materials may be superior to general-use Chinese cashmere.
The cold climate of Mongolia means that it's yaks produce some of the softest, warmest fibers of all the yaks in Central Asia. Yak fibers make for warmer garments than cashmere, and though it doesn't dye, it's warmth belies an airiness and softness that make it one of the truly unique emerging 'noble' fibers. Yak is harder to procure than cashmere and the fact that it needs to use an entirely different set of machines in the production cycle means that there will almost certainly be less of it in the supply chain. Eventually, yak may become more valuable than cashmere, and we would expect to see that reflected in price. As of now these economics are inverted and yak is the affordable alternative to cashmere, - so it's a buyers market!
Marco Polo Silk
As with all unique Marco Polo garments, they are made in Mongolia, including knitting, linking (cut & sew) and quality assurance.
The yarns come from Chinese suppliers. We were very tentative about Chinese yarns, but the thinner 16 gauge yarns aren’t spun in Mongolia, and Chinese silks are some of the best, so if we wanted silk and a thin, light cashmere silk blend, this is the answer. Our partners in Mongolia assured us that products would be dyed in Mongolia when possible, and that the usual standards of production craftsmanship would endure since all garment manufacturing is kept in our partner’s facilities in Ulaanbaatar. It does give us the chance to develop designs using the thinner, lighter 16 gauge yarns, which, when includes silk, delivers a garment that is more tightly knitted, yet lighter and with a beautiful sheen and smoothness that only silk can offer.