The only source of true cashmere is the kashmir goat (Capra hircus laniger), native to the Himalayas. Its fine undercoat hair is collected by either combing or shearing during the spring moulting season. After sorting and scouring, the fibres are cleaned of coarse outer hairs. Annual yield of underdown averages around 150 g per animal
US standards set an average fibre diameter for cashmere of no more than 19 microns, and top quality fibre is just 14. It has natural crimp, allowing it to be spun into fine, lightweight fabrics. Cashmere has small air spaces between the fibres, which makes it warm without weight, while thin cuticle cells on the fibre surface make it smooth and lustrous.
China is the world's leading cashmere producer, while Mongolia produces the finest fibre (with diameter of around 15 microns). Other, smaller producers include Australia, India, Iran, Pakistan, New Zealand, Turkey, and the USA.
World annual production of coarse cashmere is estimated at 15 000 to 20 000 tonnes, or 6 500 tonnes of "pure cashmere" after scouring and dehairing. China's output is estimated at 10 000 tonnes, followed by Mongolia (3 000 tonnes). While most of China's production is shipped to fabric and garment makers in Italy, Japan and the UK, the Chinese textile industry has begun to also make cashmeregarments for export.