SMOOTH MOVES: Burrillville’s Alashan Cashmere Co. designs, markets and distributes cashmere products to a number of high-end boutiques. Pictured above is Donald Fox, left, co-owner of Alashan, in the company’s warehouse with Bob Romano.
The cashmere goats whose hair is used to make soft sweaters, scarves and baby blankets are found far from Rhode Island – in China, Mongolia, Iran and Afghanistan.
But the Alashan Cashmere Co., which designs, markets and distributes the products crafted overseas, operates out of tight quarters in a former firehouse and the second floor of an attached warehouse in Harrisville, a village in Burrillville.
Looking to expand, owner and President Donald Fox, who grew up in Cranston, and his wife, Rachel, a business partner, employ eight other people, as well as some seasonal, part-time help, at their headquarters and offices at 411 Chapel St.
“I’m sort of what they call a cashmere geek,” Fox said. “At trade shows, they call me Dr. Cashmere. I love what I do. I take it seriously. If you do something long enough, hopefully you become good at it.”
Designed here, the goods are knitted or woven by private foreign companies and then returned to the U.S. and distributed to large department stores and high-end boutiques like the ones at Ocean House, Wilson’s of Wickford, Narragansett Limited on Bowen’s Wharf in Newport and the Glass Onion, a women’s boutique on Block Island.
Retail prices for Alashan’s cashmere products range from $170 to $612 for sweaters, and $150 to $315 for wraps, while smaller items like scarves cost anywhere from $85 to $145.
With annual sales of more than $6 million, the cashmere business is lucrative and highly competitive. Partly for that reason, Fox declined to name the overseas companies that produce the goods he sells, or the department stores that sell some products.
Selling cashmere goods was not a business Fox came to deliberately, having studied Russian and planned originally to work in the intelligence community. In fact, his bachelor’s degree, earned from the University of Vermont in 1989, was in Soviet and East European area studies. But a year later, he switched gears, resigning a scholarship at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was going for a master’s degree in Russian, and began pursuing an MBA at Bryant University.