The Genteel
October 23, 2017
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Skiers sport the latest in "performance cashmere" on and off-piste in Verbier, Switzerland. Image courtesy of dhu-online.com.
Dhu's simply designed garments bring the 
story of the great explorers back to life.
Source: dhu-online.com.
 

As "sustainability" gains traction in fashion's vocabulary, new Scottish-based sportswear and clothing brand, Dhu, is taking a fresh look at cashmere, bringing the king of natural fibres back to its intrepid and sinew straining roots.

Inspired by a heritage bequeathed by early polar explorers and high altitude alpinists, Dhu (which means "dark" or "black" in Gaelic) has developed "performance cashmere" garments for modern adventurists who climb allegorical mountains on a daily basis.

Referencing 20th century climbers of Mount Everest - including George Mallory, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay - Dhu's "performance cashmere" combines traditional manufacturing techniques with innovative modern design, creating garments focused purely on sporting and performance activity. With the likes of fellow Brit designer Christopher Raeburn up-cycling ex-military materials into functional and fashionable outerwear, there's a growing trend of garments made from ethically-sourced fabrics that retain an emotional attachment to the past.

Dhu has indeed hit upon a rich vein in history - a time before the whole world had been mapped by Google Earth satellites, and the spirit of discovery drove human beings to test the limits of their endurance against the icons of the natural world. During Mallory's attempt to reach the peak of Mount Everest in 1924, he and his climbing partner, Andrew Irving, wore Burberry gabardine jackets over layers of silk, cotton and wool to combat freezing temperatures. A 2006 re-enactment project found that the layered natural materials worn by Mallory and Irving were "extremely resilient" and found to be excellent at trapping the air next to skin, and lighter than modern mountain-wear.

The driving force behind the Dhu venture and its passionate advocacy of cashmere, is Ian Moore, who gave The Genteel insight into his vision. Says Moore, "What was inspiring was that there was an inherent honesty and simplicity associated with cashmere. It is just natural fibre, providing ultimate insulation - lightweight, breathable, odour resistant and very soft to touch. There are no fanciful performance claims, or technical jargon required. No gimmicks. That was very appealing."

Dhu (which means "dark" or "black" in Gaelic) has developed "performance cashmere" garments for modern adventurists who climb allegorical mountains on a daily basis.

A keen outdoor enthusiast, Moore noted the increased use of natural fibres - such as merino wool - in sportswear and was left wondering why cashmere was not used in the same way. This was followed by a process of research and development in which Moore investigated the archives of mountaineering and polar expeditions to get an idea of the traditional garments worn by the pioneers of exploration. It didn't take him long to discover that cashmere was widely credited as a high quality performance fibre, renowned for its life-preserving warmth without the cumbersome bulk.  

Moore then tested the market with an in-depth study focusing his attention on real outdoor enthusiasts; from casual weekend hikers to experienced professional climbers and mountain guides - both in Europe and North America - to establish the viability of a "performance cashmere" brand. He concluded that while certain established outdoor brands had flirted with the idea of using cashmere, in actuality, the products on the market lacked in functionality and quality. Consequently, after studying knitwear design at the London College of Fashion, Moore arranged for his first cashmere prototypes to be developed in Nepal, in 2010, before deciding to relocate the manufacturing process back to Scotland.

Cashmere is a rare natural commodity, sourced from the fine undercoat of the cashmere goat, a breed of mountain goat most commonly found in China and Mongolia. The goat's coarse, outer fleece protects the animal from wind and rain, while the soft, inner fibres help regulate even body temperature. To make each one of Dhu's jersey garments requires the soft, fine undercoat from four cashmere goats, which is combed from the fleece of the goat once each year. Cashmere is a wholly sustainable and biodegradable natural fibre.

Moore further explained cashmere's inherent stand-out properties, and why it's the ideal material for sports and performance activities. "At approximately 15 microns (1/1000mm) in diameter, cashmere is finer - and therefore softer - than lambswool, camel hair or merino wool," he explains, "The cashmere fibres are twisted together during the yarn spinning process, creating thousands of microscopic air pockets, giving cashmere its renowned insulation properties while remaining ultra-thin and lightweight."

While the first Dhu cashmere garments were created as functional insulation layers, specifically for alpine skiing, ski touring and winter climbing, for A/W 2012-13, Dhu is broadening its scope to menswear, womenswear and accessories. With an emphasis on function and design, Dhu garments are designed to be immediately compatible with the very best outdoor technical clothing equipment of today. Dhu's Performance Jersey and Touring Gilet are mid-layer insulation garments, to be worn as a second skin or combined with man-made or natural fibre base layers, depending on weather conditions and the type of activity undertaken. This season, Dhu's performance cashmere is being used by high mountain guides, alpine ski instructors and by a team on a South Atlantic Heritage Trust Expedition.

Conrad Anker and Leo Houlding retrace
the journey taken by George Mallory and
Sandy Irvine at the foot of Everest in
the film, The Wildest Dream
Source: Jimmy Chin,
National Geographic Ent.

Just like a mountaineer ascending a peak, Dhu is being launched in three phases. The first launch took place - rather aptly - at London's Royal Geographical Society last month, while phase two's Verbier launch occurred on the slopes of the Swiss mountain resort. Last, but by no means least, Dhu comes home to the Scottish Highlands, with a final launch that will take place on New Year's Eve.

In a world where every mountain has been conquered and even television presenters travel in complacent comfort and safety to the polar extremities for a variety of charitable causes, Dhu wants the world to recognise that "the best of the past" is still relevant today. Cashmere played an intrinsic part in an era of discovery when men pit themselves against extreme elemental forces without the aid of technology. It remains a natural, sustainable, biodegradable and ethically-sourced fibre that combines form and function in effortless simplicity.

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