Style: Knitting Wits: Highland Society
Ballantyne and 13 other Scottish yarn spinners, weavers, and knitters—including Johnstons, Alex Begg, John Laing, William Lockie, Peter Scott, and Hawick—compose the Scottish Cashmere Club, a collective that seeks to educate shoppers about the defining characteristics of authentic Scottish cashmere.
The Scottish Cashmere Club formed in 1998 as a trade organization, but the group galvanized in 2001 when the United States doubled the tariff on European luxury goods, including Scottish cashmere, in retaliation for Europe’s exorbitant tax hikes on imports of American steel and bananas from American-owned fruit conglomerates. When these so-called banana wars ended a year later and duties returned to their previous levels, the group began using its clout to promote the superior properties of Scottish cashmere compared to the cashmere knits from China and India that had flooded stores.
The group rigorously enforces quality standards and conducts random tests on its members’ products. Requirements, for example, dictate that cashmere fibers measure at least 1.3 inches in length (longer fibers are stronger and produce less pilling) and no more than 16.5 microns in diameter (for enhanced softness).
“People who think they know about cashmere initially think Scottish cashmere is not so soft, but wearing it loosens the fiber,” explains club director Graeme Sands, who attributes the knits’ coarser hand and durability to the hard water of Scotland’s River Tweed, the mineral-rich water source used by many of the region’s textile mills. “The Chinese will eventually gain the skills to create fine cashmere, but they’ll never have the River Tweed.”