Alpaca fiber is rapidly becoming one of the world’s most coveted, eco-friendly materials. The use and production of alpaca wool in Peru (its largest exporter and producer), dates back to the era of the Incas when alpaca was revered for its durability and exceptional qualities –the fine fleece was even reserved for Incan royalty.
But to better understand the sustainability benefits of alpaca wool, let’s compare it to cashmere –its main rival, so to speak. For many years, cashmere was the gold standard in luxury fabric. Any indication of colder weather would already prompt us to slip on the classic cashmere sweaters whose softness was synonymous with luxury. However, due to its mass production, cashmere’s superiority began to collapse. Its substantial decline in quality coupled with the worsening environmental conditions, has pushed society to find better alternatives.
Say Hello, To Alpaca
Alpacas belong to a family of four South American camelids. They are cousins to the camel! They spend their days roaming freely on the Andes mountains, their native habitat. Unlike camels and llamas, alpacas are not used as pack animals, but cared for to be used exclusively for growing wool. They are caught by farmers, are gently sheared, then released back into the wild. They are shorn once a year, and this actually benefits the alpaca because removing their fleece prior to the hot, summer months will aid in avoiding potential heat stress.
Fascinatingly, Peru is home to the largest population of alpacas. Peruvian history is actually steeped in alpaca farming –from the breeders who raise the livestock and master sorters who gather the best fleece, to the knitters who produce the world’s best sweaters, hats, coats, and wraps. Alpaca, certainly, plays a significant part in Peru’s textile heritage. The Incas even represent what perfect breeders should be –they are able to preserve the culture and tradition of alpaca breeding, passing on their wisdom and craftsmanship to Peruvian breeders.
Peruvian breeders and artisans hold 80% of the world’s production of alpaca fiber. And it is in the breeder’s best interest to let alpacas live as long as possible, because the industry surrounding them is also an essential local business that provides more than 120,000 families with a valuable source of income.
Why Is Alpaca Considered The Greenest Animal On The Planet?
Alpacas produce an incredibly soft and warm fiber that is now considered more luxurious than other fabrics. Unlike sheep’s wool and cotton, alpaca fiber does not require caustic steps during its production and therefore, does not produce pollution or harm the environment. Here are some fast facts that will make you love alpacas even more:
- Alpacas have a light footprint. They eat mostly native grass and do not decimate natural vegetation. They will only consume approximately 1.5% of their body weight each day.
- They are gentle creatures. Their soft, padded feet are not harsh on the terrain, allowing them to freely graze without destroying root systems.
- They are highly adaptable. Their fine fleece does not retain water, is naturally a thermal insulator even when wet, and can resist solar radiation. They adapt easily to varying climates, conditions, and elevations.
- Efficient! One alpaca can produce enough fiber to produce 4-5 sweaters, while a cashmere goat can only produce enough for ¼ of a sweater.
- It’s safe to say they’re “potty-trained.” Alpacas will use the same area as a bathroom. This helps control parasites and their waste droppings make for a fantastic, all-natural fertilizer.
- Hypoallergenic Wool! Because it does not contain any oil or lanolin, alpaca fiber pills less and is hypoallergenic.
- Alpaca fiber is breathable, moisture wicking, and has a highly durable strength that allows it to outlast other fibers.
- Alpaca fiber has a natural luster and drapes beautifully.
- They are naturally colorful and come in a range of 22 colors, from black and shades of gray, to browns, white, and even orange! This reduces the need to rely on dyes.