andean alpaca wool
Living in the Andes last year I did some research on Alpacas and discovered many unique characteristics to this ancient creature and its wool. It really belongs in the Andes at high atlitude where it thrives in a herd on dry steep mountainsides with intellectual and physical stimulation, and the right nutrients.
When they are bought by farmers to North America, Europe or Australia, they survive but they aren’t at all organic and their wool is not high quality. To avoid lack of nutrients and exotic disease they are feed pellots and medicines.
Alpaca wool that doesn’t come from the Andes isn’t ethical but simply replacing sheep’s wool for fashion. It’s complete greenwash and it also hurts the brand of high quality Alpaca that countries like Peru worked hard to build. It takes business away from the countries of origin that badly want the buisness.
Here are four reason why it’s better source alpaca from its original source.
High in the Andes the weather is cool but it is also blanketed in rich sunlight each day given its proximity to the equator and a long dry season. In places like Britain or even Tasmania the temperature may be appropriate but the lack of sunlight and Vitamin D compromises the alpaca health. According to research in the UK in the worst case scenario the animals suffer rickets and many baby alpacas between the ages of 4 to 7 months are lame. Farmers aware of the problem feed the animals pellets rather than grass which contain Vitamin D. All this will effect quality of the wool just like a poor diet and lack of sunlight effects our hair and skin.
Pesticides & Chemicals
In the Andes alpacas are raised at very high levels, mixing only with llamas and require no pesticides or chemicals to thrive. In the UK, USA and Australia they are often farmed with other animals carrying disease or bugs that they have not evolved immunity to. They commonly contract skin diseases which do not exist in the Andes such as ‘chorioptes` that causes itchiness, scaly thickened skin and hair loss. They can be treated- with chemicals and hence the wool no longer organic.
Diet & Lifestyle
While the alpaca can survive on the green grasses of England or warm climate of Florida on fenced in farms they have evolved to roam mountainsides and keep very fit. They are used to walking long distances as they forage for food which is often dry grass. Alpacas are also intelligent and social, and while they are friendly to people, they suffer emotionally when they don`t have herd life, which may mean shorter life spans and poorer overall health. It might not be obvious to the farmer who has never seen the majesty of the alpaca roaming the Andes, but the alpaca is not in optimum conditions and neither is its wool.
Outside of the Andes almost all alpacas on farms are the more easy-going Huacaya alpaca breed. But the finest wool comes from the Suri which is temperamental and almost impossible to farm outside its native Andes.
wool sorter Arequipa, Peru
While after processing you will probably never notice the difference in the woven wools unless you’re an expert, my main hesitation with alpaca from Australia, the USA and Europe is that it is a fad that will damage the timeless textile as produced in the Andes. In Australia it’s almost a joke textile worn by hippies but in ancient Inca times it was the textile of the gods worn by royality and woven by the elitist of weavers.
It’s also taking an industry away from the farmers of Peru and Bolivia. Instead of farming their animals in other countries, I believe we should be buying their higher quality wool and helping them work their way out of poverty through a tradition that belongs to them.