It is difficult to determine exactly where things come from in today's environment. And even if you do know, it can be challenging to know whether your materials were obtained ethically or not.
But you may be relieved to learn that harvesting alpaca fiber has mostly been ethical and done with animal-friendly manual efforts.
An alpaca, a camelid species native to South America, produces alpaca wool.
It is sheared once a year, which entails sorting the animals for harvesting, shearing with a hand-held razor, and then carding, spinning, washing, and air-drying the fleece.
So is it ethical?
The short answer is yes.
Shearing is an ethical and animal-friendly technique that is frequently carried out using traditional ways.
Now, let’s take a peek at the entire process of harvesting fleece from alpacas.
What Is the Origin of Alpaca Wool?
Alpaca wool is a natural animal fiber derived from the alpaca.
Alpacas are native to South America (primarily Peru, Bolivia, and Chile), and its fur is prized for its softness and durability.
There are two species of alpacas which are the Huacaya and the Suri alpaca.
The most prevalent is the Huacaya alpaca. It is the traditional, fluffy, sheep-like animal that generates incredibly smooth and silky wool.
Hair from the Huacaya variety has less crimp and is therefore ideal for weaving techniques.
And then there's the Suri alpaca. You'll recognize them by their shaggy hair.
While these alpacas appear to be in desperate need of a bath, their fur can be finer and more valuable than that of their Huacaya relatives. A Suri alpaca's wool is also more elastic, making it easier to knit with.
What is Alpaca Wool?
Alpaca fleece is more comparable to hair than wool. It features a scale-like texture and a hollow fiber.
It is critical to handle alpaca wool carefully in order for it to retain all of its properties. As a result, the procedure requires a great deal of precise, manual labor.
People in South America have been working with alpaca fleece for generations, and they have the ideal set of skills for processing alpaca fleece in a natural, efficient, and animal-friendly manner.
Alpacas come in 24 various colors ranging from black to white and shades of gray and brown. This diverse spectrum of natural colors is an excellent supply for producers and reduces the need for coloring.
Once a year, alpacas are shorn. To preserve excellent quality wool, its fur must be long enough to yield a single large fleece in the first shearing.
In general, 7 cm will suffice for high-quality fleece, so this is the quantity that alpacas may readily develop in a year.
Are alpacas harmed during shearing?
Alpacas may not love the shearing procedure, but after their thick coat is removed, they will be grateful.
Alpacas are restrained to ensure that they are not hurt during the process. This ensures that the method is not hazardous to the animals.
The key is to complete the operation as swiftly and efficiently as possible in order to stress the animals as little as possible.
And the loudness of the shearing equipment, rather than the anxiety of being shorn, is what causes the stress. Also, it is not unusual for a few of the shearers to be spit on in the face, which is fair.
Also, it has been found that the restraining adds to the stress of the alpacas during shearing. So to work around this, farmers see to it that the alpacas are standing up during the process to reduce their anxiety.
So the process is not harmful to them at all. Even pregnant alpacas can still be shorn as long as the farmers keep the animals safe and as comfortable as possible throughout all the steps.
How are alpacas shorn?
Step 1 | Preparation
It is critical that the wool be dry before shearing can begin. This implies that an alpaca should be kept indoors or under a roof for at least 24 hours prior to the shearing process.
When an alpaca's fur is soaked, it retains extra dirt or muck in its fleece. A dry alpaca is neater and thus produces higher quality wool.
It is also critical that the animals be classified according to their fur color, type, and age.
To shear an alpaca, you must first ensure that the animal is restrained. Some more experienced alpacas will even voluntarily go through the process gently in a restrained standing position.
Restraint may appear harsh, but without this precaution, if the animal becomes terrified, it may make unexpected movements that cause unwanted harm.
As a result, the animal is placed on sacks, its feet bound and stretched out. Again, this does not harm the animal; rather, it stops it from making unexpected movements and injuring itself.
To avoid injury, if the animal exhibits any signs of tension or nervousness, it is advisable to restrain it on the ground or on a shearing table.
Caretakers are frequently engaged in the process for the sake of the alpaca. They will pet and chat with the animal to comfort it.
Step 2 | Shearing
To prevent spoilage of alpaca wool and maintain its excellent quality, the wool must be shorn in a single cut. This means that there is no back and forth during the shearing operation, only one long trip.
When shaving is done correctly, it produces a large fleece that excludes shorter bits of hair owing to second cuts.
Longer pieces of wool provide higher quality wool, however smaller bits of wool might cause the wool to weaken and split apart.
An expert shearer will be able to complete the entire process in a couple of minutes. Everyone who works with alpacas will use an animal-friendly, hand-held razor that will not cut or harm the alpaca.
Also, to ensure complete safety, one person is always holding the alpaca's head down.
The shearing is then performed from the stomach area to the back, up the spine, towards the opposite end (the alpaca is turned then), then back down to the tummy. This procedure results in a single large fleece, which is subsequently collected in a bag (1st cut).
The second stage entails shearing the neck and legs, with the wool being put in a separate bag since it will be shorter (2nd cut).
To separate the various quality fleeces, different portions of the animal are sheared at different stages.
Step 3 | Sorting
The wool will need to be sorted as quickly as the alpaca is released.
This is a painstaking process that is frequently performed by women in South America. Their accuracy and precision outperforms that of machines.
First, the wool will be laid out on the ground (or on sacks) to remove shorter, thicker, or uneven hair.
When just the longest hairs remain, they will be carded.
Carding is the combing of the wool fibers to make them more consistent. This is accomplished by gently stretching or pulling the hairs to get them ready for spinning.
Step 4 | Twisting or Torsion
After carding, the wool is ready for torsion. The wool will be produced into dense skeins of wool during this process, which can be done manually or with machinery.
Torsion is the method that gives alpaca fiber its maximum strength.
There are varying "grades" of twisting depending on the type of wool being made. The more it is twisted, the stronger the fiber.
However, if overworked, the wool might lose its tenderness and become excessively rigid.
In Peru, this is frequently done by hand as well.
Women are frequently seen with a large lot of fluffy fleece, miraculously transforming it into spun wool using a wooden spinning wheel.
They make it appear to be the simplest thing in the world, but it is a genuine traditional sophisticated art form that not everyone can just do.
Step 5 | Washing
The next critical stage in the procedure is to wash the wool. In contrast to sheep's wool, alpaca wool is washed once it is spun.
This is done to eliminate any stains, filth, or grease from the hair.
The wool is washed in lukewarm water, submerged for approximately 30 minutes. It is critical that the wool is not rubbed, wrung, or pressed.
Shampoo or a detergent is used throughout the washing procedure to eliminate any dirt and grease.
This is also the time to color the wool when needed.
Even while alpaca comes in 24 natural colors, there is an even wider range of dazzling hues produced by applying natural or industrial dyes.
To remove any excess dye, dyed alpaca wool will be washed a second time.
Step 6 | Preparation for Distribution
After drying, the wool is suitable to be spun into a finished product. This can either be done by hand or by machines, depending on the manufacturer.
Then, it is ready to be sold.
Alpaca Fashion is Not CruelSo definitely, alpacas are not harmed when the process is done correctly.
And if you are into alpaca clothing and accessories, you can have a clear conscience that what you love is animal-friendly.
If you are looking for excellent alpaca products that are guaranteed to be produced in an animal-friendly way, Hand Made by Marion has what you need.
We source only from local farms in Peru, ensuring that our alpaca products come from material harvested in the traditional way that doesn’t harm any animal.