Alpacas are native to the high Andes Mountains of South America. They represented a valuable resource to the ancient Incas, their precious fleece being sewn into garments that had the ability to warm their wearers against even the harshest winter chills.
Alpacas come in a range of more than twenty naturally gorgeous colors, from inky black to warm chestnut and snowy white, and their wool is lofty, soft and warm.
Alpaca wool is known as "The Fiber of the Gods", as only Inca royalty were allowed to wear it, while the non-royal risked harsh punishment if they dared to don garments knitted from this exclusive fiber. Nowadays, along with vicuna wool, it is the new trend among high-end designers who are favoring this soft, durable fiber over mass-produced cashmere. The designs often combine alpaca fibers with other types of wool (merino, cashmere), silk and even cotton in order to obtain different effects in materials.
Alpaca fiber is hollow inside, which allows it to be light and breathable and, at the same time, very insulating, with a thermal capacity superior to what other types of wools can provide. It is also stronger, more durable than sheep’s wool, extremely soft (not prickly) and it doesn’t contain the lanolin normally found in wool, meaning that most people who have wool based allergies will not be allergic to alpaca.
From an environmental and social perspective, alpaca wool is more sustainable than cashmere (which is the cause of great environmental stress in China and Mongolia) and has a better quality/price/durability ratio. It is also a fair-trade product that has created market opportunities for artisans in South America as well as fair wage and safe working conditions.
Baby alpaca and vicuna are the only fibers considered superior to alpaca.
Baby alpaca is a finer and softer type of alpaca wool that comes from the first shearing of an alpaca. It can rival its cashmere counterpart when it comes to softness and outdo it when it comes to strength.
Vicuna wool is the world’s finest and rarest wool. It is the ultimate luxury and the fiber of choice for the most exclusive designer wool garments due to the exceptional insulating properties and distinctive luster and softness. A shawl made from this delicate, yet extremely warm fiber will be priced in the range of 1000 – 3000 dollars, while a coat could amount to tens of thousands.
The vicuna lives exclusively in South America, at very high altitudes. Due to extreme poaching, this delicate and shy species has spent many years on the endangered list, prompting the Peruvian government to create a labeling system that identifies all vicuna garments. This guarantees the protection of the animal and its habitat (the vicunas are sheared alive, every two years, and then returned to the wild) while also insuring that the profits from the vicuna trade benefit the local indigenous community (fair-trade).