The Story of June Cashmere

© Jared Heveron

June Cashmere yarn appeals to the heart and head as well as the hands. The yarn, available in both a DK and a heavy laceweight, comes to Knit Purl from the mountains of the Kyrgyz republic in Central Asia via Belgium (for scouring), Scotland (for spinning), and Maine (for dyeing). If a transparent supply chain were all that made these yarns special, though, we wouldn't bother telling you the story – it's the human element (paired with the extraordinary quality of the yarn!) we want to highlight.

 

© Jared Heveron

Cashmere is a fiber born from adversity: the extraordinarily soft fiber we know and love comes from the insulating down of cashmere goats, allowing them to withstand the brutally cold winters in Mongolia and the autonomous region of Inner Mongolia in China which are the sources for most of the finest cashmere in the world. Exceptionally harsh and/or snowy winters in 1999–2002, 2010, and 2016 – known in Mongolian as dzud – have decimated the herds in Mongolia, though, and limited the cashmere supply. Suppliers have been forced to look to other countries to meet the demand for the fiber, including Kyrgyzstan, nestled among other former Soviet ’Stans on the western border of China. Most buyers, sent from Chinese mills, buy cashmere by the kilogram at a low price, putting no emphasis on the quality of the fiber they are buying, with the result that many Kyrgyz herders sheared their goats to increase the yield, thus mixing the cashmere down with the tougher guard hairs: this is where June Cashmere makes a difference.

 

© Jared Heveron

Starting in 2013, Sy Belohlavek – the founder of June Cashmere – became interested in bringing Kyrgyz cashmere to western knitters. Rather than trying to purchase cashmere at the lowest price per kilo, he and his buyers told the nomadic herders he would pay higher prices – for higher quality, pre-sorted fibers. At first, they focused on the proportion of down to guard hairs, but after three years of training, Sy and his team are able to focus on the quality of the cashmere down itself during their annual spring buying trip, paying the herders higher prices for softer fiber. This provides the shepherds with a much needed source of income in a country suffering from chronic underemployment, allowing them to pay debts and invest for their future.

 

© Jared Heveron

June Cashmere also engages in development work to support the welfare of the herders who produce the cashmere, installing heating in schools so children can pursue their education during the winter, as well as repairing water pipes so communities can have access to clean water. This is an essential business goal for the company, as Kanat Anarbaev, the Kyrgyz general manager, discusses in an interview on the June Cashmere blog. In addition to these infrastructure projects, the company also invests in community training, spending time and money to teach the herders not only how to sort fibers themselves, but how to train other shepherds to do so as well. The company is not interested in keeping these small, independent producers dependent on June Cashmere for income, but wants to see them – and Kyrgyz cashmere – become a real player in the global fiber community.

 

© Jared Heveron

What you really want to hear about, though, is the yarn. Both the DK and the laceweight yarns are plied, with five and three plies, respectively. Although both yarns bloom when washed, they do not have the tender halo of most cashmere yarns on the market, such as Cardiff Cashmere, making June Cashmere well-suited to gender-neutral patterns. Both yarns are a pleasure to knit with, having a dry, almost cottony hand, without much bounce, but with very good stitch definition; they are probably best knit at a tighter gauge, which will give the finished product greater resilience and elasticity. In working with the yarn, our tester had occasion to rip out and reknit, and the yarn softened up beautifully, but did not pill or become ragged. Be careful, though when combining colors: the samples we blocked did bleed, so at this stage in the development of these yarns you might want to focus on single-color projects. With this caveat in mind, though, we feel confident in saying that these yarns will only get better with time – and they are already pretty extraordinary!

 

© Jared Heveron

It’s important to think about where your yarn is coming from, as well as how it is produced. June Cashmere yarns are an interesting example of how it is possible for globalization to make a positive impact on the those living in emerging economies, while also bringing a very special pair of yarns to your needles. What's the story behind your favorite yarn?

 

-Meaghan

April 03, 2017 by Guest Blogger
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Comments

Barbara Johnson said:

So good to learn more about June Cashmere!! Thanks for posting this!!

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