Why Lois Avery Cashmere and its Suppliers are so Special
This is a topic I’ve wanted to touch on for quite some time. Lois Avery’s cashmere is, of course, the heart of this business and I’m very proud of its quality. And one of the questions I get asked most often is where we source our cashmere. I haven’t meant to keep it a secret (you can actually find some of this info in the “our story” section on the website) but I wanted to be sure I thoroughly thought out my answer because it’s very special to me and is part of what makes Lois Avery so unique.
So, when putting together this information for you all, I thought, why not break it down into a fun Q&A! Who doesn’t love a good Q&A? I hope it answers any questions about sourcing. If you have any other inquiries, please feel free to contact me.
Let’s dive in, shall we?
What is cashmere?
The finest cashmere starts with fibres from Mongolian goats. This may surprise you, but the bitter temperatures in this region mean that the goats produce a fine undercoat of hairs, and it is this undercoat which is eventually woven into the textile we know as cashmere. The hair used to weave the wool that makes cashmere is ultra-fine and only found in the under neck and belly area of the goat. It’s guarded by coarser hairs that have to be sifted out when the hair is harvested every spring.
Why is cashmere expensive?
To shed light on why the material is so expensive — it takes four years for a cashmere goat to naturally shed enough fine hairs to knit one sweater — making the supply low on an in-demand product.
Where does our cashmere come from?
I proudly source our cashmere shawls from the Alpine region of Italy north of Milan. This is the perfect setting for luxury cashmere production due to the soft water that runs through the rivers in this area and serves the textile mills. Yes, you read that right, soft water is part of the equation that helps produce high-quality cashmere.
What were your considerations when choosing your suppliers?
There were several standards I knew any mill I worked with had to meet. First, it was fundamental that they produce the highest quality cashmere in Italy while also being a family-run mill. Second, but equally as important, suppliers had to have respect for the employees who work for them, the goats producing the cashmere and the environment. Oh, and I had to like them (which I do very much).
How did you find your suppliers?
This was my biggest challenge before Lois Avery launched. The process was twofold. Hold on tight whilst I dive into this.
First, I needed to find suppliers who had the skills and experience I required. The internet was a great starting point, but then I had to go deeper. I started by emailing potential suppliers, then bought textbooks on fine textiles and contacted the authors. Through friends of friends I eventually found myself on a Skype call with someone who worked in men’s suiting and sourced all of his fabric from Italy.
The next step was to visit trade shows. It was after this that I compiled a short list of "dream" suppliers, and started scheduling appointments to meet them in their mills. To decide which ones I wanted to work with, I followed my instincts (my best advice to anyone starting a business). It was very important to me to visit each facility and make sure my standards were being met. I eventually chose several mills and was ready to move forward.
At this point, it probably sounds like I was set, right? Not quite.
As it turns out, finding suppliers is not the end of the story. You then have to convince them to work with you. This is no easy feat—especially when you have no experience in the textile industry. However, genuine passion can be very persuasive. I showed them I was serious. I took my Dad to meetings with me, not to run them or speak for me (he never said a word), but for support and to help prove I meant business. He was also a delightful lunch companion!
How long have you been working with them?
I’ve been working with my suppliers since before Lois Avery launched—about two and a half years.
Is Italy known for cashmere production?
There are two countries in the world more renowned than any other for cashmere production—Scotland and Italy. I chose Italy because I’ve always loved Italian design. Not that there’s anything wrong with Scottish design, but when you think of fashion, your mind just goes immediately to Italy.
Plus there are a number of other reasons why Italy stood out, starting with the high quality water I mentioned above. I also love that some of the oldest mills in the world are located in Italy and there is an uninterrupted history of cashmere production. They’ve been able to adapt old traditions with technical innovation, which means the quality of the cashmere is always maintained. Also, cashmere is famously very resistant to dye and Italy is very well known for the techniques it uses to ensure colour saturation. Cheaper manufacturers in other parts of the world just can’t replicate this experience.
Do you work directly with your suppliers in their mills in Italy?
Yes! As I’ve said before, if I haven’t had an espresso with them in their mill then you won’t see their cashmere at Lois Avery. We work together on product development for The Collection, as it's so important for me to get the products just right. You wouldn’t believe the number of samples that never make it into The Collection. It’s definitely a process of experimentation to achieve the shawls you see on the website.
What makes LA’s cashmere such high quality?
First and foremost, we only include products in The Collection that are 100% cashmere—we never dilute our shawls with other fibres.
A little bit of background for you: cashmere is made from the fibres found in the undercoat of cashmere goats, which is classed as a speciality hair fibre. And our exquisite cashmere starts with the quality of these raw materials. The fibres are sourced by our suppliers from Inner Mongolia and come from famous breeds of goat such as Capra Hircus Blythi. The scarcity of cashmere makes it very special as one goat produces only 150g of fibres a year!
Our suppliers also use techniques learned through experience (collectively they have over 300 years of it), and a fierce hands-on quality control programme to produce beautiful yarn that is then woven into our shawls which are fine, soft and warm.
It takes a long time to produce a cashmere shawl, and it usually takes many months from the collection of the raw fibres from the goat to the finished product you receive in your Lois Avery presentation box.
Do they actually make the shawls as well? Or is the cashmere sent elsewhere before arriving in London?
We work with fully integrated mills. This means that the entire production process is undertaken by our suppliers. The fact that we work with family-run mills means that there is accountability at every stage of the production process—from the sourcing of the fibres to the finished product. This ensures that the finished shawls are indeed very special.
And now you know where Lois Avery cashmere comes from! I hope I’ve answered any questions you might have had, but as I said above, if you have more, please feel free to reach out on our contact page.