A few words an extraordinary fiber
Alpaca displays all its impressiveness, from the lightness of the animal to the fineness of the fiber. There’s even a specific glossary that alpaca lovers need to know in order to appreciate this world in depth, which can be summarized in these few words: Alpaca… light on earth
Rock paintings dating back more than 8,000 years show the interaction that already existed between the Ancient Peruvians and alpacas. Alpaca fiber started to be used in textiles around 2500 BCE and gained even more importance over time in Ancient Peruvian cultures.
Now, the alpaca is an important pillar for the livelihoods of over a million small-scale farmers in the Central Andes. Alpacas are also extremely important to their cultural identity. According to a survey conducted by the Peruvian National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI), about 4 million alpacas provide these Peruvian families with a livelihood.
There are two alpaca breeds: Huacaya and Suri. The Huacaya make up almost 90% of today’s herds. Strong and robust, these animals have a medium-long fleece with a fluffy appearance and a thick, wooly fiber. They are resistant to the cold and disease. The Suri are slim and delicate, with a long, shaggy fleece that often almost reaches the ground. Their fiber has an exceptional sheen and softness that is highly appreciated on the market. This strong and intelligent breed also withstands hot climates, but it is rare to find since there are very few specimens.
Alpaca fiber is very rare because there are far fewer animals worldwide than other species that produce luxury fibers, such as cashmere goats. Furthermore, the demand for this fiber is on the rise on the global market, like the number of plants equipped to process alpaca.
The fineness of alpaca fiber varies from 18 to 35+ micron, which provides endless production possibilities, from extremely fine and light products to thick blankets with high thermal performance.
- Alpaca Superfine
Represents 40% of total alpaca production.
- Baby Alpaca
Represents 25% of total alpaca production.
- Royal Alpaca
The finest Huacaya fiber. Represents 2% of total alpaca production.
The alpaca does not tear grass and plants from the ground, but merely nibbles on the tips, allowing the vegetation to grow back. Unlike goats and sheep, which have sharp hooves that damage the ground, alpacas have two toes with a soft pad on the bottom of each foot that reduces their impact on the pasture. They literally have a “soft footprint”.
Alpaca is considered to be a hypoallergenic fiber as it does not contain lanolin, a protective waxy substance that covers a sheep’s skin. Lanolin, which is often added to cosmetics and lotions for its hydrating properties, can cause unpleasant reactions for people with allergies or those who are hypersensitive to the substance. On the other hand, the natural oils that cover the fiber ward off dirt and dust.
Compared with other animal fibers, alpaca has a low fat content (2.8-3.9%), which means that considerably less energy and chemicals are needed to treat the water used during the washing process.
Alpaca fiber is available in more than 22 natural colors. These colors are categorized into 9 pure tones: white, light camel, camel, light brown, brown, gray, brown/black, and black with many other hues. The natural alpaca palette makes dyeing unnecessary, which reinforces the absolute sustainability of this fiber.
As alpacas are very well-mannered and attentive animals, capable of responding to commands, they are often used in pet therapy because of their intelligence and willingness to interact with humans.
Alpacas are highly efficient because they consume far less food than other fiber-producing animals. Alpacas also drink less water than Hircus goats, but are still capable of producing more wool.
For instance, an alpaca can produce enough wool to make 4-5 sweaters a year, whereas four goats are needed to make only one cashmere sweater.
Alpaca fiber has superb insulating qualities against the heat and the cold. It is five times warmer than sheep wool and keeps the temperature better than any other type of wool. Alpaca has hygroscopic properties, the ability to absorb humidity from the environment and retain it, resulting in a feeling of comfort to the skin.
ALPACA VS. OTHER FIBERS
- Softness comparable to cashmere
- More resistant than wool and less prone to pilling and felting
- Five times more thermal insulating than wool
- Lighter than any other animal fiber due to the cellular structure of the empty fiber