I spent way more time in Mr. Ghulam's shop than I meant to. I mean, there are other things to do in Pokhara, you know. I could have taken a boat to see the sunken temple, or taken a thanka painting class. But I have a weakness for lovely textiles, and I enjoyed just looking at the cashmere.
Aside from being soft, it is also a fine fabric, draping lightly and fluidly, especially the thinnest weave. And the colours! There was a subtle sheen to it - not as obvious as satin or silk, but just enough to let you know this isn't wool or cotton. It was a lot of fun to admire.
Fast forward to the beginnings of our online store. Jason tries to choose colours for the product images in Melbourne.
"I've seen the cream, that looks too white," I tell him from Kuala Lumpur. "Are you sure the camera isn't getting the colour wrong?"
"No, it isn't," he insisted. "Not under studio lighting."
"Look, even on the model photo in the studio. There's a tiny bit of yellow. Cream." But he showed it to me under bright sunlight, over Skype. He's right. It's really, really pale under a lot of light.
But... I'm also right. If you folded the cream scarf and took its picture indoors.
Huh. Cashmere doesn't quite photograph like other fabrics.
The Unexpected Side Effect of Hollow Fibres
I soon realised, that this subtle play of colour is related to the same trait of cashmere that makes it so light, yet so warm - its hollow fibres. We just hadn't realised that it would make online shop photography a tad trickier!
Cashmere's hollow fibres make it lightweight, while trapping more air and making it warmer than you'd expect.
But do you know what else goes in there? Light.
This means cashmere doesn't just reflect light. Some light passes through, and comes back out somewhere else. In between, interesting things happen. It's sort of like how the slightly translucent white marble of the Taj Mahal acquires a subtle pink or gold colour shift depending on morning or evening light.
You know what they say about the human eye being a lot more accurate than cameras? True for cashmere.
We came to learn a little bit about what makes the eye perceive different colours as different, to ensure that the product image matches the tint that the scarf would generally have in real life - individual monitor and browser settings aside, of course.
So, we thought we'd compile our experience so far into a set of tips for you!
When you're browsing Ethical Cashmere's product selection...
All the following effect variations we're about to describe are subtle. If you just need the colour to be a general sort of colour (e.g. "I am just looking for a dark red"), then there's no need to worry - the product image will easily fit the bill.
Chances are, you wouldn't perceive the variation as a 'different' colour at all, only a 'play' of colour. Our existing customers and friends generally enjoy the pleasant surprise of discovering how cashmere lustre differs from the scarves they've had in the past!
But, if you want to verify specific shades you're looking for (or want to make sure a disliked shade is definitely not in the range), send us a message!
Colour perception: Cashmere online shopping tips
An online store should have taken steps to consider the photography implications of cashmere's special attributes, and compensated accordingly.
So, these tips are intended more to help the online shopper appreciate the colour behaviour of cashmere that we consider a 'bonus', since it is responsible for cashmere's more luxurious appearance compared to other winter fabrics.
So, what sorts of things influence your colour perception of cashmere?
1. Whether the cashmere is folded or not
Unsurprisingly, folded cashmere is less remarkable, since there's not much light penetration happening. This is when it looks the most flat.
For thicker weaves, the difference is not as noticeable when you unfold it. But for thinner weaves, it can be quite remarkable, especially the paler colours, which tend to appear several shades darker when folded. Our EVERYDAY diamond-weave cashmere shawl is thin enough to show this effect, despite being warm enough for autumn to spring.
The photo below shows the same scarf as in the article header - Custard Cream - when it's folded and under indoor lighting.
So, don't just leave it folded... open up the scarf, drape yourself in it, take it outside!
2. Whether the cashmere is indoors or outdoors
From our experience to date, the light pastels (e.g. the Baby Blue) and pale neutrals (e.g. Taupe Grey, Custard) seem to respond to light mostly similarly indoors or outdoors.
But for some reason, dark colours seem to be more impressive indoors. The two darkest colours, the Forest Green and Pepper Red, appear slightly glossy indoors. I'm not sure why, and it's quite hard to render it in a photo.
3. What colour the cashmere is dyed in
It would be so much more convenient if you could have just a couple of rules of thumb to set cashmere colour expectations. Yes, paler colours tend to give more luminance with more light. Yes, for some reason dark, richer colours have a more stable colour perception with lighting changes, and somehow more glossy indoors.
But then there are the other colours, that just do their own thing.
Is it brown/russet coloured?
The browner tones, for example, seem the most amenable to photography (e.g. the Copper Orange from the range, shown below). Digital cameras seem less confused by them. The colour shade and hue tend to be stable across lighting changes as well.
Is it red or orange?
You might think that brown/copper is not that different from the reds. (Well, I did).
But no. All the reds and the Tangerine Orange (photo below) flash a bright colour under direct sunlight, although it's less dramatic with the Burgundy Christmas Limited Edition (now discontinued).
The Red in particular, can be so bright that the image loses definition.
Is it pink?
By far the colour that personally baffled me the most, is the Princess Pink. The reason is that it doesn't just attain luminance or flash in the sun, it seems to shift in hue as well.
I eyeballed it myself, taking images of a single scarf in different conditions, checking it against images others have taken. Indeed, most of the time it's a candy floss/ Disney Princess pink, but at times it appears slightly warmer, just a tinge of coral. Yet paradoxically at other times, it also somehow appears bluer - a cooler pink?
I always thought that pink is just red with more white in it. Which works, if you're mixing a dye. But I recently learned that there isn't a 'pink light wavelength'. Pink is actually a combination of wavelengths - mostly red and blue - that we interpret as 'pink'.
As far as I can tell, I don't get this problem with pink anything else (not that I have a lot of pink things). Soo... I guess it's down to that hollow fibre effect. Maybe, depending on how the light is interacting with the cashmere, the green could be enhanced or the blue could be - and then the hue of pink cashmere would actually seem to change!