Adopting Ghana

No blood for cashmere or diamonds

In Essays on December 15, 2009 at 10:48 pm

The High Price of Cashmere – TRCB

Women working in factories cleaning goats’ wool for the production of cashmere say their health is suffering and they are poorly paid.

They labour in factories all across the western Afghan province of Herat to process the wool in an early stage of what goes on to become one of the world’s most expensive cloths.

Sima, 12, would rather be studying but she extracts goat fuzz – the fine undercoat hair needed for cashmere – from the shorn wool from 7 am until 4 pm for about 140 afghani (2.90 US dollars) a day.

“My parents are dead and my brother has gone to Iran to work. I am the only breadwinner for my four siblings now,” she said. The family live in a ruin that they do not own and Sima suffers abdominal pains and asthma, but she cannot afford to go to the doctor.

I was in Manhattan last week and happened to stroll along 5th Avenue during the high holy days of rabid consumerism known as “two weeks before Christmas“. I walked into a clothing store.  I can’t remember the name, but I’m sure my admission of that qualifies me as the flyover-state hick I’m proud to be. The store was lined wall-to-wall with…you guessed it…cashmere. And leather. And other textiles whose names and origins I probably will never know.  No prices on the items were to be found. If you have to ask, you’re too poor, so get your uncultured hiney out of here.

Next, I stopped by Tiffany’s to see how the other 1% live (you know, that 1% that controls 90% of the culture and about 50% of the world’s wealth).  I witnessed first-hand as a woman, handsomely attired in full mink jacket, asked a sales clerk of Indian provenance (one would expect more handsomely commissioned than his former Afghan neighbors to the west) the price of a rather sparkly tennis bracelet.

“Two-thousand dollars,” he said, trying to hide his hopefulness.

“Okay. I’ll buy it,” she said after 0.0000000000001 seconds of thought on the matter.

Two-thousand dollars would go a long way in a place like Africa where those diamonds were likely mined in great abundance, then quickly squirreled away in a DeBeers vault to artificially inflate the scarcity and rarity factor so that the price, also, would be artificially inflated to attract diamond-delighting dupes. (As an aside, Liberia is a chief source of diamonds coming to the U.S. from Africa.  Due to a civil war in Liberia leveraging Liberian diamonds as a means of funding an insurgency, many Luckyhill orphans come from families in the Liberian refugee camp in nearby Buduburam, Ghana.)

Hmm, I thought, let me do the math here. $90 feeds 10 kids per day at a typical Ghanaian orphanage for an entire month.  So, $2000 divided by $90 feeds  over 220 kids per day for an entire month. I wonder if her contemplation time would have lengthened had I been able to interrupt the purchase with that hypothetical proposal.

Next, I wandered over to another counter where a square piece, a little larger than a postage stamp, studded with six marquis diamonds arranged like a flower and dangling from a marquis embedded chain caught my eye.

“It’s actually a pendant,” the sales-lady, also of Indian origin, informed me. “It opens up like a locket.”

“I don’t have any money, ” I replied, “but I’m curious to know anyways. How much does something like this cost?”

“Forty-five thousand dollars.”

I nearly choked.

“Did you say forty-five with three zeros?”

She giggled a little, becoming more comfortable with the situation knowing from my admission and reaction that I was not bluffing about my non-existent purchasing power, and leaned toward me as if to share a secret. “I know, right?  Tremendously expensive.”

“I’ll say.  And the reason is probably that it’s a very rare piece.  How many are in existence?”

“About 10, I believe.”

We both shared a knowing smile and I thanked her for her time.


$45,000 divided by $48 per month for an education for one child in Ghana.  That’s 937 children who could have an education if only one person…one very wealthy person…forgoes a sparkly-shiny Christmas.  For all ten of those pendants in current circulation, a month of education could be purchased for each of 9,370 children of Africa, or an education for 780 children for the whole year.

What would you trade for that which is most priceless of all and lasts even more eternally than the ever-loved diamond. What would you trade for a life full of potential and an educated mind?

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  1. Coming home from LH a few days before Christmas was a reality check for me. I couldn’t do it. Just ask my family 🙂 Beautiful fabric was bought and each chld measured. I can’t wait to see the photos of them in their Christmas outfits. Kingsley said they were thrilled and had a wonderful day. They are the rare gem…

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