A little history
Originally from South America, alpacas have always played an important role in the Andean culture. Domesticated around 6000 years ago, alpacas are direct descendants of vicuñas which still roam to this day the highest plateau of the Andean Cordillera.
Alpacas are part of the Camelid family (Camelidae) along with llamas, camels and dromedaries. Just as their wild ancestor the vicuña, alpacas typically live in high altitudes where the environment can be extremely harsh. In South America, many alpaca farms are found on high mountainous plains called the Altiplano (''Altitude plains'' in Spanish), an active volcanic region that spans almost 1 500km and which is mostly made out of semi-arid desertic landscapes.
Considered to be a gift of the gods, alpaca fiber is harvested annually and handcrafted into a variety of clothing, traditional costumes and accessories. Vicuñas are also sheared every two years during the
Chaccu ceremony, a ritual historically dedicated to the celebration of PachaMama (Mother Earth) and
other Andean gods. Part of this ceremony involves gathering these wild camelids and harvesting the small amount of extremely fine, highly prized golden-hued fiber they produce before returning them to their wild habitat. During the Inca empire, only royalty were allowed to wear vicuña clothing as it was considered to be highly sacred. The Chaccu festival is still observed to this day and beyond being a ritual that is deeply rooted in traditions ensuring fertile crops and animals for the year to come, it is nowadays also a way to gather donations from sustainable-minded travelers attending or participating in the event in order to promote and encourage conservation efforts of wild vicuñas.
Domesticated for its fiber and meat, alpacas became a central tool in the survival of many Andean aboriginal groups. Quechuas, an emblematic name given to many indigenous groups of the Andes sharing the same language (Quechua), have always been at the forefront of alpaca farming. Their ancestors are believed to be the first to have domesticated alpacas. Although a great part of them barely survived the Spanish Conquest, a small population of alpacas did survive the invasion and assured their continuance. For the Quechua people, raising alpacas is much more than just an agricultural venture, it is a symbol of the Andean resiliency and a lifestyle that is deeply rooted in the traditions and customs of an entire nation.
Loved and cherished, alpacas played a crucial role in the survival and prosperity of the indigenous people of the Andes. They still are today an intricate part of the Peruvian culture and of those of neighboring countries.
Often referred to as the cashmere of the Andes, alpaca fiber is one of the finest natural fiber available worldwide. Alpaca fiber has long occupied a central place in the customs and crafting of traditional costumes in the Andean culture and still is today at the forefront of the farming and textile industry in South America.
The finest alpaca fiber grades are similar to cashmere in terms of softness while the coarser grades are closer to traditional sheep wool. Alpaca fiber’s fineness variations makes it very versatile raw product that can be transformed into a variety of end products.
Alpaca fiber can be spun, felted, knitted or weaved into highly breathable material or fabric that can absorb many time its own weight in moisture while keeping all of its insulating properties. The finer fiber grades can be made into thin luxury scarves and other high-end accessories. Coarser grades can be used to make weaved carpets and other practical items such as felted dryer ball or insoles.
It is no secret that plant and animal based fibers are the way of the future and alpaca is no exception! Environmentally friendly, biodegradable, renewable & often offered in natural colors with no added chemical dyes, alpaca fiber is undeniably a highly sustainable and ecologically sound alternative for the production and crafting of accessories and ready-to-wear.