I am currently taking a course in sustainability for fashion and came across some amazing knowledge about alpacas, which I previously knew nothing about. South American in origin, the alpaca is the world's oldest domestic livestock and a very distant relative of the camel. Alpacas produce one of the most environmentally friendly natural fibers out there.
Production of the hair into yarn creates a textile that is far softer and less irritating to the wearer than wool and many other natural fibers. Not only does alpaca yarn naturally exhibit pure softness, but also it is also completely hypoallergenic, low-shrink, luxurious, and thermal (each fine hair is hollow so the thermal qualities are very strong; it's like wearing insulation, only much softer). Because the fabric is very durable, resilient, and doesn't pill, matt, lose its luster, or wear thin easily, an alpaca garment's appearance can remain largely unchanged with wear, time, and cleaning.
Alpaca farming is also much better for the environment because they have anefficient three-stomach digestive system that metabolizes grass and hay more efficiently than nearly all other livestock, so they eat less per pound (they average 160 lbs). Alpacas have a lightweight, which is soft on the ground, which greatly reduces soil damage, which in turn allows for grazing in more fragile environments. The other alpaca byproduct, "Paca Poo," is pH-balanced and an excellent, natural slow-release/low-odor fertilizer.
Unlike sheep wool, which contains the allergen oil lanolin, alpacas produce a dry fiber that contains no lanolin. This means it doesn't need to be subjected to the heavy scouring that sheep's wool requires, or washed in harsh chemicals to remove any residual contaminates, both of which contribute to wool allergies. Alpaca dyes very well and takes color nicely from plant and other natural dyes. With alpaca's wide range of rich, lustrous natural colors producers can create colorful, non-fading items without any dyes at all. Being animal fibers, alpaca is naturally flame-retardant and self-extinguishing. Alpaca fabric's natural cleanliness requires only infrequent laundering and generates little static electricity. It is naturally stain-resistant and antimicrobial, so it doesn't hold odors. The fabric is not waterproof, but it does shed moisture well, stay warm even when wet, and dry quickly. Because of its ability to regulate body moisture, it keeps the wearer drier than many waterproof fabrics that cause internal saturation from perspiration.
So where can you get this amazing fabric? It is not as easy to find as wool, but there are a variety of websites and stores that offer stylish alpaca products:
Purely Alpaca offers cute sweater dresses, versatile wraps, and really great custom coats.
The Alpaca Boutique offers great sweaters, scarves, hats, gloves, and goods for the whole family.
Peruvian Link sells beautiful ponchos, trendy gloves, cozy slippers, and soft toys for kids.
Peruvian Connection offers the most sophisticated and stylish collection, including amazing sweaters and dresses, as well as products made of pima cotton and other soft knits.
You can also find alpaca products and blends at more commercial retailers like Eileen Fisher, J. Crew, Nordstroms, and Banana Republic.
XOXO, Coco Birdie