Alpaca fleece has long been a well-hidden secret, known only by the native tribes of the Andes who looked after and tended to the needs of these gentle creatures. Once word got out, however, the news quickly spread, and alpacas have now been imported to almost every country in the world. There is a real demand for the soft, smooth and strong fabric, generated by a need for function and a desire for fashion.
The luxury Andean treasure was part of the great Inca legacy, almost wiped out when the Spanish invaded and killed off the majority of the alpacas. Thankfully, some Indians survived by escaping into the mountains and taking a few alpacas with them, ensuring that the animal would avoid extinction and allowing us to enjoy the beautiful warm fleeces.
As well as being lighter, warmer and more durable than sheep’s wool, it is also an eco-friendlier option. Alpaca fleece is a renewable material that uses much less energy to produce. It is not as rich in lanolin as sheep’s wool, meaning that less manufacturing is needed to create the perfect product, while alpaca farming places less strain on the environment. Since alpacas are naturally hardy animals, they eat less than sheep and are happier on more mountainous terrain. Their wider hooves are more suited to grassland too, loosening the soil without destroying the vegetation beneath it.
Alpacas come in a huge range of colors, making them a joy to work with in a fashion sense. Cashmere has long been the luxury wool of choice, but designers are now looking for an alternative and the durability and strength of alpaca wool makes it ideal for investment pieces typical of expensive luxury brands.
If any proof were needed as to the fashion influence these fleeces have, two major events take place in Peru to celebrate and display garments made with alpaca fibers and to allow important business connections to be made. Alpaca Fiesta takes place every four years, while Alpaca Moda is every two years. This October, both events combine to create an extravaganza of alpaca fashion, with new and established designers helping to promote Peru as the vanguard of the fibers, which are now known as the flag product of the country. History has proven the value of the alpaca, and in the present day textiles produced from their fiber can be found in the fashion centers of Paris, Milan, and Tokyo.
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