Scotland/China articles

The cashmere connection

by Website Editor, 9 February 2015

In the Year of the Goat we can celebrate one very significant connection between Scotland and China involving Chinese goats – the supply of wool that is made into the finest cashmere garments. There has been a trade in this product from China to the Scottish textile industry for many years. But the "cashmere connection" has been strengthened in more recent times with the acquisition in 2009 of leading manufacturer Todd & Duncan, based in Kinross, by the Ningxia Zhongyin Cashmere Company from China. This continues a manufacturing tradition begun by the company in 1867. We interviewed Bruce Cameron, the company's Sales Director, to find out more.

Cashmere's origins - goats in Inner Mongolia ; herdsmen harvest the cashmere underfleece (all photos are courtesy of Todd & Duncan)

Cashmere is the rarest and most precious natural fibre in the world, yet the product of one of its harshest environments. "Cashmere fibre can be sourced from several regions of China, and from Inner and Outer Mongolia", says Bruce, "but the higher quality types that can command a premium tend to come from Inner Mongolia or other regions of China". As Bruce explains, "during the winter months, the temperature can drop to 40 degrees below zero, and to protect themselves, the goats grow a downy underfleece of soft short hair - this undercoat is cashmere fibre".

Chinese cashmere tends to be the finest and whitest fibre available - other parts of the world tend to produce shorter, coarser fibre of dark brown colour. Bruce says, "coarser fibre will influence the quality of the handle and drape of the garment - there is some white Mongolian fibre, but it is not as white as Chinese and is still coarse".

The production process at Todd & Duncan's factory at Kinross - cashmere being dyed ; the looms ; the wide range of colours available

It takes around 1kg of raw goat wool to produce 200g of cashmere. So your cashmere sweater is the product of the wool of three or four goats – an overcoat needs the wool of 24 animals.

Todd & Duncan prides itself as being “the home of colour”, with a range of over 10,000 colours available for textile and fashion designers. Another key feature of its manufacturing process is the softness of the local water, which is as critical to the production of Scottish cashmere as that of Scotch whisky !

During the event in 2009 to mark the company's acquisition by its Chinese partner, First Minister Alex Salmond, Mr Li Jianjun of the Municipal Government of Lingwu, Ningxia, Mr Ma Shengguo, Chairman of Ningxia Zhongyin Cashmere Company, Consul General Mrs Tan Xiutian, and other dignatories tour the Todd & Duncan factory

On 12 October 2009, the then Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond MSP joined Mr Li Jianjun of the Municipal Government of Lingwu, Ningxia, and Mr Ma Shengguo, Chairman of Ningxia Zhongyin Cashmere Company at a special event at Todd & Duncan's Kinross factory to mark the deal (see images above).

Mr Salmond said at the time, “Todd & Duncan have a proud history of producing luxury cashmere on the banks of Loch Leven for use in the world's top fashion houses”, adding “I am delighted that the future of one of Scotland's leading textile manufacturers and around 200 highly skilled employees has been secured by Ningxia Zhongyin, which is China's leading cashmere company, producing fibre, yarn and garments”.

Mr Ma Shengguo, Chairman of Zhongyin, said, "I am very proud to be here, not because of the equipment I have purchased, but because of the excellent product and the quality produced here in Scotland by a skilled and talented workforce. With their support and effort, I believe that we can overcome any challenges that lie ahead and develop Todd & Duncan to its full potential".

Five years on, "Chinese ownership has been very good for Todd & Duncan", confirms Mr Cameron, adding, "our new owners very much value the heritage of our business and the fact that we manufacture in Scotland". For example, he explains, "once the acquisition of the business was completed, they quickly proceeded to purchase back the land and buildings where we were located in Kinross". As he says, "this put out a strong message to both our employees and our client base - Todd & Duncan would continue to spin the world's best cashmere yarn in our historic location".

Equally, the main benefit of the deal to Todd & Duncan is the continuation of guaranteed supply of the highest quality cashmere fibre from the very best regions in China. Clearly the catwalks of Milan, Paris, London and New York will be graced by this unique product of a partnership between Scotland and China for many years to come.

For more information, see :

1. The Todd & Duncan website is here. It includes a long video here, 'The Cashmere Trail', with several minutes of fascinating footage about the cashmere goats of Inner Mongolia.

2. For some earlier background, see this film, dating from 1978, courtesy of the Scottish Film Archive. The section from around 3:15-6:00 minutes includes some interesting shots of Inner Mongolia, where the wool came from, and the process of gathering wool from the goats and its transportation.

3. An archived Scottish Government news release about the acquisition of Todd & Duncan in 2009 can be found here.