Looking for Cashmere
Our story starts with one of the most iconic cashmere items in the world—the Burberry scarf. For my generation, this represents the pinnacle of a cashmere scarf, the real deal.
We were entering a period where much was said about the “democratization of cashmere” as fast fashion brands such as Uniqlo and Zara were releasing extremely affordable cashmere staples. In the midst of all this, our Chief Technology Officer was taking advantage of the amazing deals on cashmere offered by the high street fast fashion retailers. However, the rest of us knew better. Particularly with all that we have learned on Archibald, we knew there was no such thing as a free lunch; there had to be a compromise, somewhere.
It was the height of winter and the coldest moment of the year and a package arrives as a gift. A traditional Burberry scarf sent over by our old neighbour, a well timed gift for some work we helped her with. As soon as we opened it up and felt the item, we had our answer. There was no comparison between the two products and delving into the industry taught us why. It was clear that the fast-fashion, "disruptive" and accessible alternative was simply not worth even half the amount it was being sold for.
It was another fallacy. A lie that allowed people to think they were receiving incredible value and one told in a way that convinced customers of the "democratization of cashmere". In reality it was simply a significantly worse product, in line with every "fast retail" offering. The world was not offered a real alternative, rather they were made to believe they had.
You see, there are grades of cashmere fibres, where they are sourced, how they are treated, the processes used at the mill etc… just like a pair of glasses you could start theoretically start with the exact same materials but end up with a totally different result.
Delving into the industry, we found other brands renowned for their cashmere – Loro Piana, Cartier, Brunello Cucinelli and studied each of them closely, learning of their operations and what made their products so much better, allowing them to command extremely high prices.
We learned about the entire process, how the different breeds of goats were taken care of, what part of the goats yielded the best fibres and how industries were established in Italy and Scotland that specialized in processing the fibres the “traditional way” – yielding beautiful yarns which would then be expertly woven into beautiful products by the master crafts-people at mills in Italy and Scotland.
While brands tend to only market their high grades of cashmere fibres, the difference between quality is actually in the finishing, rather than raw product. Consumers tend to listen to hymns about lambswool, merino and cashmere, but the biggest differentiator is in the way these products are washed, teaseled and woven.
However, most people we had interacted with hadn’t the opportunity to experience products like a Cucinelli or Burberry scarf, there was a clear barrier due to the inaccessible prices being charged. These were brands with large displays in your Bergdorf Goodman’s and Harrods – the only ones entertained by those with the means and ability to experience the best on offer.
Enter Archibald—we had finally found our second category to go after and 'disrupt'.
The journey started with a tour of Brunello Cucinelli’s facility in Umbria. We took it as an opportunity to get into the minds of a company we totally respected from a product and philosophy point of view, just we had a slightly more modern idea on how to reach our customer base. It was an eye-opening experience, however using Cucinelli’s resources was not an option – and so the search continued.
The search then took us to the very heart of the British luxury industry and exposed us to one of it’s best kept secrets – a 250 year old, family owned mill situated in Elgin, Scotland which is the last remaining vertical mill in the country. A mill that helped some of the most popular luxury labels in the world build their entire reputation as a major players in the global luxury goods industry.