Living in a cold region or country would certainly mean that you need warm clothes. But with today’s trends and developing clothing industry, people have become even more particular about materials that go in their clothing.
With many options available, alpaca wool has been growingly considered one of the top premium fabrics.
With that, the industry has grown, and producers have multiplied. This has resulted in different practices when it comes to sourcing and processing of the wool.
So, let’s discover more about ethical and non-ethical alpaca wool.
Nuff talk. Let’s dive right in.
What is Alpaca Wool?
Alpacas are gentle, affectionate and calm furry animals. This species is commonly from South America and close cousins of the Llama and distant relatives of the camel.
Alpacas are smaller compared to llamas. Unlike llamas, alpacas are not bred as working animals but mainly for their fiber.
These adorable animals live in extreme climates which develop their coats. With that, the fiber has a distinct texture that makes it prominent.
So, what makes alpaca wool special?
Origins of the wool
The wool of the alpaca was commonly referred to in the Andes as, “the fiber of the Gods.”
Alpacas are highly valued animals in South America. These mammals were considered to be significant in pre-Inca and even Inca times.
The fibers woven from alpacas were only limited and used by royalty and nobles or important figures.
In pre-Inca times, alpacas were commonly hunted and sacrificed to the gods of the tribes. According to researchers, alpacas, along with llamas, were ritually sacrificed and were included in tapestries and weavings.
Alpaca wool was at par to be a treasure like gold and silver. Textiles and fabrics were one of their most treasured possessions.
Fabrics were means of showing status and position for the Incas. It also carried great meaning in religion and society.
As times and culture evolved, alpacas were domesticated along with the llamas. The Incas saw the clear difference of the animals and each were used for different purposes.
Llamas were bred mainly for their labor, while alpacas were used for their fleece.
Different types of alpaca wool
Alpaca wool comes in two types of fleece – Huacaya and Suri.
Huacaya is the most common type of fleece that comes from the alpaca. Its fiber usually grows and looks similar to fluffy sheep wool.
The characteristics of the Huacaya is that it is a spongy type of fiber that has a natural crimp. This specific texture is what makes the fiber elastic which is a great option for knitwear.
On the other hand, Suri is somehow rare as it makes up about less than 10% of the population of alpacas in South America. This is because they were bred for royalty during Incan times.
This type has a long, silky fleece that looks like dreadlocks. A difference between the Suri wool and the Huacaya is that it has no crimp.
With that, it is better used for weaving.
Unique Properties of Alpaca Wool
Why are alpaca garments so in demand? What makes it different from other woven materials?
Well, it lies in the actual fiber these furry animals have.
The alpaca fibers are uniquely hollow inside. With that, its properties become thermally flexible and can adapt to different climates making it wearable for both winter and summer seasons.
Here are some of the unique properties and characteristics of alpaca wool:
● Heat retention
● UV rays resistant
Fibers from the alpaca can insulate you very well in cold climates. With that, it ensures your well-being in extreme conditions like when the temperature goes below zero degrees.
During cold seasons, garments made from alpaca wool are guaranteed to keep you warm. This is because alpaca wool has a unique feature that retains the heat from the human body.
Another notable feature of alpaca fibers is that it absorbs the sweat and moistures from the body.
So, even if you are sweating a lot, your body’s smell will not persist. This is because of the neutralization properties of alpaca fiber.
That’s why alpaca wool socks are incredibly comfortable to wear.
Because of the quality and traits of alpaca wool, it is durable to last long enough. It can withstand harsh environments and conditions.
UV rays resistant
Another unique feature of alpaca wool is that it deflects the UV rays of the sun. So, when living in areas with direct exposure to sunlight, alpaca wool is cool, soft and resistant to the harmful rays of the sun.
The Cost of Alpaca Wool
If you look at the fiber structure of the alpaca wool, you would clearly know and understand why it is so valuable.
The high quality and exclusivity of the fiber give alpaca wool its high value in the market.
There are factors that can affect the pricing of alpaca wool or garments. Such as:
1. Alpaca fiber content
2. Market source (Peru vs. Online)
3. Alpaca variety
4. Processing (Machine-made or handmade)
6. Production (Knitted or Woven)
These factors greatly contribute to the pricing of your desired fabric. Also, because of different varieties and manufacturers, prices will definitely vary.
Great quality will always come in proportionate value.
Alpaca wool garments and items can cost as much as $30 to $120 for a hat alone. A ruana can be purchased at around $230 to $280. These prices are based on online prices versus buying them from Peru.
One thing is sure, materials of great quality with limited sources will have a price proportion to high demand.
How Is Alpaca Wool Produced? – Ethical vs Unethical
Alpacas are commonly shorn once a year. This is usually during spring time. The fleece is thoroughly cleaned after shearing and then sorted by color.
In shearing an alpaca, you get to harvest an average of 3 to 5 kg of wool. The wool is then sorted based on quality.
Then the wool will need to undergo several steps or stages in the industrial processing of the material. After that, the wool will be ready for sale for knitting or further processing.
So, with the growing popularity. Many have ventured into the industry, mainly for the farming and production of the wool.
However, because of differences in practices, some may disregard ethical values in the process.
Ethical Alpaca Wool
Alpaca wool is popularly considered because it’s generally cruelty-free, ethical, eco-friendly and sustainable.
It natively comes from Peru. With its breeding dating back thousands of years ago, natives still practice the ways of their ancestors.
The wool of the alpaca is sheared once a year. This is done by using a hand-used methods. The process is greatly assured to be animal friendly and usually done following indigenous methods.
To keep the alpaca wool’s qualities, it is vital to carefully treat the wool. This means, treating the alpaca itself must be with utmost care also.
The process is generally labor intensive and requires careful humane, manual labor.
The South American people have cared for, bred and ranched alpacas for their wool for centuries.
The skills in processing have been perfected throughout the centuries. With that, natives have practiced and made sure that their processing methods are efficient, natural and animal friendly.
Non-Ethical Alpaca Wool
Despite the majority of ranchers practicing ethical values, there will always be players in the industry that will go against it all.
In June 2020, PETA brought out an expose on the practices in harvesting alpaca wool.
In an undercover investigation in the world’s largest privately-owned alpaca farm in Peru, heart-wrenching situations of the alpacas were uncovered.
It was revealed that crying alpacas were manhandled by the ears as they were sheared. Some alpacas would vomit out of fear. Sadly some were even slammed into tables (and some were pregnant).
Because of the quick process, shearing was rough and this left the animals with cuts and bleeding from deep wounds. These wounds were just sewn up without any pain killer whatsoever.
With that, PETA urges retailers to ensure the protection of these vulnerable animals.
So Ensure to Get Alpaca Products from Ethical Sources
We can’t generalize the practice of a few companies and damage the reputation of the whole industry. Alpacas have been cared for and bred for centuries.
We cannot avoid that there are people in this world who can be cruel.
With the growth of the industry, the production and demand for alpaca wool have helped natives in Peru. It has supported families and helped people to earn an honest living.
To be cautious in what you buy is great. That’s why it’s best to know more and dive deeper into the industry. You can still always find trusted brands like Handmade by Marion for alpaca wool garments.