The origin of our alpaca sweaters
Alpacas on the Peruvian Altiplano
A two-hour drive from Arequipa in the Salinas Reserve, alpacas are scattered in small groups in an arid but majestic environment at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres above sea level, where temperatures can range from +25°C to -20°C. At this altitude agriculture is no longer possible. Nothing seems to have changed for millennia, except for the presence of plastic bags…My guide tells me that alpacas return home under their own steam, heading for their small stone enclosures, but did I understand correctly?
Alpaca farmers are scattered too, living in small hamlets and probably descended from previous generations of alpaca farmers. I know there are more ‘contemporary’ farms, with alpacas separated according to their colour in order to preserve their palette of at least 20 natural shades. Black is rapidly disappearing and it’s the only way to save this natural colour. Anyhow, there are also traditional extensive farms.
Low environmental impact
Alpacas are the fibre-producing animal with the lowest environmental impact : their teeth cut the grass rather than tearing it out like sheep or cashmere goats and they don’t have hooves, but two toes covered with pads. This means they don’t damage pasture which minimises soil erosion. They also need a lot less food to live on. Shearing takes place once a year, in the spring. It seems to me that this is the only significant interaction between man and alpacas.
The alpaca wool industry
I continued my alpaca education with a visit to the spinners in Arequipa. Alpaca fibre is sometimes known as ‘the fibre of the gods’ or even ‘gold of the Andes’. It is bought by cooperatives, which then sell it on to spinners. It is sorted according to its colour, ranging from white to black, including shades of beige, brown and grey. This means 100% natural alpaca sweaters can be made, saving on water, energy and dye. It was after this visit that we decided to work on a range of alpaca sweaters in 100% natural colours for the 2020 season. I also learned that alpaca wool contains very little lanolin or wool grease (two times less than cashmere and three times less than sheep). Its fibre is therefore naturally clean, requires little energy and no harmful synthetic products in the cleaning process. From then on, processing is purely mechanical.
The creation of noble, timeless sweaters
The big surprise when wearing an alpaca sweater for the first time is its lightness! Its fibre is filled with air pockets, providing incomparable softness and warmth. We mainly use baby alpaca: this does not mean the wool from a baby animal, but that the category of the fibre’s fineness is less than 22 microns. Baby alpaca represents only 20% of alpaca production. We do not mix our alpaca with synthetic fibres so sweaters remain completely biodegradable and remain noble to wear because they are not a source of pollution.
A très bientôt,
Les Racines du Ciel