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Learn about alpaca

 

Large group of Alpaca in the Andes mountains

History of Alpaca

Alpacas are members of the South American camelid family which also includes Llamas, Guanacos and Vicunas, to which they are closely related. They have been bred in South America for over 5,000 years.

In these ancient Incan times, alpaca fibre was used to make clothes for royalty and was known as ‘The Fibre of the Gods’. But these noble creatures have had a somewhat turbulent history. When the Spanish invaded Peru in 1532, they failed to see the value of the alpaca and its fibre, so after eating what they needed, they were pushed (along with the surviving Incans) into the highest parts of the Andes, allowing the Conquistadors to move their cattle and sheep onto the lower grazing land. This, along with the loss of so many indigenous people to work the mountains, resulted in massively depleted alpaca herds for the next 450 years. It wasn’t really until the mid-1800’s that alpaca fleece was ‘rediscovered’ when Sir Titus Salt introduced it into the UK marketplace. He presented a coat to Prince Albert for Queen Victoria and during her reign it became an extremely desirable (though very expensive) fibre. Garments were actually so prized (and hardwearing) they were sometimes bequeathed in wills!

Today there are an estimated 4 million Alpacas in South America and about 95% of them are found in the southern regions of Peru. Living at altitudes ranging from 2,500 to over 4,500 metres above sea levels, they can withstand extreme weather conditions which can vary from +30°C to -20°C in a single day - nature could not have designed a better insulating fibre.

 

Alpaca grazing high in the Andes mountains

Why is Alpaca wool so special?

Alpaca fibre is prized thanks to its natural properties. The combination of unique weather conditions and a low protein diet allows alpacas to grow fine hair that is comparable to other special, high quality fibres such as Cashmere, Angora and Mohair.

Alpaca fibres are hollow allowing it to trap heat and naturally push water away, this is the key to the high levels of warmth it can provide, while its ability to manage moisture means it’s also highly breathable - making it a perfect fibre for year-round wear. Softer, stronger, warmer and lighter than sheep’s wool, another benefit is that alpaca fibre doesn’t contain lanolin, making it naturally hypoallergenic, alongside the softness this makes an alpaca garment comfortable for people with sensitive skin.

Another positive is alpacas leave a low environmental footprint. Unlike sheep and goats, they have padded hooves that are gentle on the land. They are also gentle when they graze. Many grazing animals pull the grass (along with the roots) out with their teeth, alpaca gently eat the tips – leaving the roots intact so the plants can continue to grow. And because alpaca wool is lanolin-free it’s much easier to wash without the need for intensive detergents or chemicals.

 

Artisan crafting alpaca into yarn

How is Alpaca Made?

The wool from the alpaca is shorn once every twelve months and this process is done by hand. Once the wool has been acquired, it’s ‘carded’ – this is the process of combing the individual fibres into the same direction ready to be spun. Once formed into yarn the wool is washed and then air dried, after this it’s ready to be made into a garment.

Some of our garments specify ‘Baby Alpaca’, these have the characteristic super-soft feel. Unlike the name suggests, this is not fibre obtained from baby alpaca, instead it’s taken mainly from the shoulders or back of an adult alpaca. The fibres in this area experience less ‘stress’ than say the underbelly, making them finer. So the term ‘baby’ refers to the category of fibre rather than the age of the animal.

 

Artisan crafting alpaca clothing from yarn

Why buy Alpaca from us?

Our knitwear is designed and knitted by skilled artisans in Peru. Exclusive to us – you won’t find these designs anywhere else.

We are extremely passionate about working with only the most responsible suppliers. We work hard with them to ensure they only use yarn from respectable spinners and that those spinners only collect yarn from farmers who they know take the welfare of the alpacas extremely seriously and who work harmoniously with nature and the environment. We have written agreements in place with all our overseas suppliers to ensure that not only are the alpaca well looked after, but also their employees are fairly treated, and are paid a reasonable wage. We also visit our factory regularly to ensure our high standards are adhered to.

 

Alpaca in the Andes mountains in Peru

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Spirit of the Andes Summer 2022 Clothing Catalogue - Luxury Alpaca Clothing
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