There simply isn't enough virgin cashmere fiber produced in the world to make all the items labeled cashmere today. So many producers of camel hair and cashmere products, all members of the Camel Hair and Cashmere Institute, have been monitoring these luxury fiber garments and accessories and, on occasion, having questionable items tested to see if they are labeled accurately.
Last week, the first challenge to retailers for improper labeling was settled when attorneys for Bloomingdale's agreed that the store would relabel a group of women's coats by Dejac of Paris labeled 40 percent cashmere but thought after testing to contain less than 9 percent.
Bloomingdale's did not agree that tests by the Camel Hair and Cashmere Insitute were representative of all the coats or were necessarily correct. But it did agree to relabel.
"This situation is symptomatic of a widespread problem," says Karl Spilhaus, executive director of the luxury fiber group. "We've tested sample coats from several major department stores and have found the actual fiber content to be significantly different than what is shown on the labels."
As the popularity of luxury fiber products has increased in the last few years along with the demand for better-quality, higher-priced clothing, members of the institute have been increasingly aware of bogus products at every price level.
"We hope that other department stores will be as cooperative as Bloomingdale's and recognize the existence of this problem, which ultimately harms the consumer," said Spilhaus.
Although it is the responsibility of the Federal Trade Commission to enforce labeling requirements, Spilhaus said the institute's efforts were a necessary supplement to both the commission and customs.
"It is virtually impossible for an ordinary consumer to know if the label content is accurate on a cashmere coat or muffler," he said. One clue, however, might be the comparison of several similarly labeled items.
Much of the mislabeled fabrics originate in Prado, Italy, a well-known center for the manufacture of fabrics from fibers regenerated from rags and other used goods.
Such recycled products are required by law to be so labeled, "but," says Spilhaus, "this is rarely the case in our retail stores today."