The cashmere sweater with the Sh33,900 price tag at Elena Kuoni’s Kashmir store in Village Market is so soft. I find out that this is because the fibres are very fine.
They are also bumpy, meaning they will cling to one another and not stick out and cause your skin to itch as with straight fibres. This is only one of the reasons why cashmere is considered a luxury good.
The fibres come from cashmere goats and a single one produces about 150 grammes per season.
“You need about four goats to make a single sweater,” says Elena. “You also don’t shave it but comb out the undercoat—only the hair close to the goat’s skin—which only sheds once a year, and that is then separated by hand.”
Because it may well be the diamond of fabrics by rarity, cashmere is priced as such.
“The ponchos cost Sh19,900,” says Elena, pointing an immaculately manicured finger to the rack where the various colours are hang.
“I didn’t want to keep high margins. Usually, items in Kenya can tend to be overpriced, although sometimes that is because import taxes are high. My prices are fair and a sweater from the same manufacturer in Europe can even cost slightly more. I am primarily targeting a Kenyan clientele and my aim is to show people that they don’t need to wait until they travel abroad to do their shopping— they can get decent prices here.”
Elena is tapping into a clientele looking for luxury clothing items, and by her account, a Kenyan woman just recently came to her store and bought five sweaters for about Sh200,000.
“I am working hard to get more people interested in luxury products. Instead of buying 10 low-quality products, you can invest in a good cashmere one. Despite its lightweight, cashmere can be up to eight times warmer than wool. My yarn is manufactured in Scotland and Italy. The designs are mine, and my daughter actually came up with the name for the brand.”
The store has everything from open sweaters, cardigans, socks, shawls, children items as well as a traveller’s set which includes eye masks and blankets. In the men’s section, I spot a simple V-neck sweater going for Sh29,000 and a heavier one going for Sh48,000.
“There are different categories depending on how fine or thick a garment is. For each category, cashmere is also sold by grammes. You cannot tell the price until you weigh the final product,’’ she says.
To further illustrate her point, Elena shows me a green sweater which she bought in Germany and which is now worn out after a couple of washings, although the tag says it 100 per cent cashmere.
She compares it to one of her own, which she has been wearing for about a year now, and the difference is clear as her passion for her products.
The Russian owner of Kashmir store has been living in Africa for 23 years, 13 of those having been spent in Kenya.
Her business primarily stemmed from a love for fashion.