As the weather gets colder, New Yorkers have a need to layer up for warmth. Arguably the warmest non-jacket item that a person can wear, the cashmere sweater is an article of clothing that simultaneously provides ultra-warmth and fashionability. Yet not all cashmere is sourced or prepared with the same level of care, making some designers stand out far and apart from others.
Kinross Cashmere, with offices in both New York City and Boston, is currently sold online and at over 500 retailers nationwide. Originally part of Dawson International — a world-renowned luxury textile company headquartered in Kinross, Scotland — Kinross Cashmere is now a U.S.-based cashmere and luxury natural fiber apparel line. It is currently the only company in its industry with a bluesign certification.
Downtown spoke with a few folks from the Kinross team to learn more about the brand: Co-Founder Andy Bartmess, Co-Founder Mary McCann, and Creative Director Suzanne Pond. Between the three Kinross team members, there was some great knowledge dropped about the geography and materials needed to produce a top-tier cashmere sweater and also where to find some great razor clams in Downtown Manhattan.
Do you remember the first cashmere item you ever owned?
Suzanne Pond: My first cashmere item was a red sweater one of our family friends gave me as a kid. It was the softest coziest sweater I had ever tried on and I couldn’t wait for the weather to get cool enough so I could wear it. My mom would only let me wear it on special occasions since it was such an expensive piece for a little kid to wear, and that feeling of wearing the bright red, soft sweater on the most special days of my childhood has stayed with me ever since.
A lot of people first heard of cashmere via the Led Zeppelin song title “Kashmir.” Is there any relation between the two?
SP: While the song doesn’t really have anything to do with cashmere, the song title certainly does. Kashmir is a region of northern India, and it is reputed to be the original 18th century source of shawls made using hair from the fine winter undercoat of a certain breed of goat — this fine goat fiber eventually took the name of its origin and came to be known as cashmere. The Led Zeppelin song is more about Robert Plant’s adventures driving through the Sahara Desert in northern Africa. As it happens, the vast majority of the best quality cashmere material in the world today also comes from the regions around a desert, but it’s the Gobi, not the Sahara.
What is it about that your cashmere that provides so much warmth?
SP: Cashmere goats live in extremely harsh environments and their coats have evolved to insulate them from those conditions. The warmth is related to the fineness of the fiber which makes it more effective at blocking the cold airflow. Cashmere is one of the finest commercially-available fibers, and we select only the highest grade fiber for our garments, making them especially warm and soft.
You are known as a Scottish company, but also have offices in Boston and New York City. What is it that is worked on in the New York office?
SP: In the beginning, we were owned by the Scottish luxury textiles company Dawson International; headquartered in Kinross, Scotland. Besides Kinross, they also owned well-known cashmere brands like Ballantyne and Pringle. We became a privately-held business in 2014, after Dawson International closed its operations. Boston is our home office and includes Finance, Customer Service, Design, Sourcing and Distribution. Our sales team and showroom are based in our New York City office.
How does a company go about becoming a bluesign® Systems Partner?
SP: It’s not easy! The bluesign governing body is based in Switzerland. They have an extensive and arduous process to test and certify a company’s supply chain to ensure it treats all the people and communities it interacts with respectfully, lawfully and responsibly, and that it does no harm to the environment. Certification starts with detailed documentation of the production process and includes several cycle audits, inspections and improvements. In total, this process took us more than a year to complete and we are proud to say that we are the only company in our industry with a bluesign certification.
Do you remember the first store in New York that carried Kinross Cashmere products?
Mary McCann: Absolutely, in 2001 Rothmans’s, on Park Avenue South and 18th Street, was the first store in New York to carry Kinross Cashmere. It’s a men’s clothing store carrying luxury brands that have a similar core mission to ours, so it’s a true honor to work with the team there. They remain huge supporters and continue to carry Kinross Cashmere.
Do you have a favorite Kinross Cashmere article of clothing? Or one that you wear most often?
MM: Living in the Northeast, nothing beats the perfect black cashmere turtleneck. An iconic silhouette in a luxury fiber is my must-have. It is the most versatile sweater as it is the perfect companion to jeans for a casual weekend look or can be dressed up with skinny black pant or pencil skirt for the office.
What’s coming up for Kinross Cashmere in the near-future?
MM: We just launched our women’s Spring ’17 collection and have introduced a luxury tissue weight cotton yarn and new range of tees that are made in the USA. We are finalizing our Fall ’17 range, showcasing woven coats, super-lightweight worsted cashmere and accessories in addition to our yummy cashmere sweaters. We are pleased to announce that we are introducing a new men’s collection in Fall 17, designed by a menswear guru, which includes fine shirtings made in the USA, Italian knit ties and accessories.
Are there any brands that Kinross Cashmere partners with?
MM: No, currently Kinross has not partnered with any brands, although it has been on the radar and our customer may see some partnerships in the future.
When not busy with work, how do you like to spend your free time?
Andy Bartmess: What’s free time? (laughs) When I am not in the office, I spend my time enjoying the great outdoors via running, biking and paddling. New England is home to a vibrant arts community and I support the local arts scene by catching all the new shows at the repertory theaters and exhibits at the local museums.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in New York?
AB: Casa Mona, a cute quaint neighborhood restaurant in Gramercy. Two words: razor clams!
Finally, any last words for the kids?
AB: The world currently produces millions of low-quality apparel that can only be worn a handful of times. This is a huge waste of raw materials and a major source of greenhouse gasses. It’s worth it to invest in beautiful, high-quality clothes that will last. The younger generation is in-tune with sustainability and longevity. Cashmere is the perfect item!