For over 5,000 years, South Americans have been breeding alpacas. Alpacas are found in South Colombia and Ecuador, all the way down to the Andes mountain range between Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, and Peru. It is also referred to as “the fiber of gods” due to its original use, only available to royalty. Nowadays, alpaca fleece can be naturally woven, known as alpaca wool, or combined with other materials to create a fabric.
The main types of alpaca products are alpaca wool, Suri alpaca wool, and baby Alpaca. These noble animals have “guard hair”, a fairly hollow, straight, stiff hair, which is normally removed before spinning. The amount of fleece obtained varies according to the alpacas’ size. A top male stud will shear around 7kg of fleece, from which, around 3kg will be good quality.
Throughout the year, Alpacas are taken care of and bred by their local communities. Unlike any other cattle, the great majority of groups that work with alpacas regard them with affection and love, as if they were part of their family.
Once a year, in spring, Alpacas are shorn. After the fleece is cleaned and categorized by color, it is ready to be combed and spun to yarn. The wool has to be cleaned once it is threaded to ensure all impurities have been removed. Because almost no grease, commonly known as lanolin, is found in alpaca wool, cleaning provides no complications. Smoother than sheep wool, this fiber shares a diameter with merino wool. Among the precious characteristics of this fiber can be found it does not retain water; it is a fine, light, and thermal insulator; it will even resist solar radiation.
The main characteristic of this fiber is that it has a 60% medullated core, meaning that it contains an inner central core, it can be continuous, interrupted, or even fragmented. The fiber is wrapped around the core and the cells contract or disappear; this creates air pockets that allow insulation. The amount of medullation is the coarse equivalent of fiber, the less medullation, the finer the fiber will be. This can be spotted on a garment that has a hairy appearance. A smooth and even texture will signify a thread free from medullated fibers.
In a general sense, when Alpaca fabric is mentioned, it is important to distinguish the different types of alternatives; because, there are quite some subtle differences between the types: alpaca, Suri alpaca, baby alpaca, and new developments.
Baby alpaca, as its name implies, is not the fleece of the little ones. It is a middle layer protected by the outer thick hair and the inner, almost, the skin of the alpacas. After the cleaning and color sorting process, coat separation takes place. To avoid the inner coat mat, alpacas have thick awn hair: long straight hair between the undercoat. Brushing alpaca fur in this state will damage that undercoat structure irremediably. The separation of these two awn hairs is the difference between an alpaca and a baby alpaca.
Brands like Cornelio Borda have tested textile and fiber mixtures until they successfully attained their desired texture without canceling their sustainable and ethical background; a fabric that they named alpaca carpet: alpaca and Pima cotton. The Alpaca carpet does not contain any new animal fur; all the alpaca wool is won from remnants of clothing production in Peru. On the other hand, Pima cotton is the highest quality cotton available, harvested from tropical areas, its brand feature is its long cotton fibers that reflect on a super soft and lustrous fabric. The Pima cotton and the alpaca fabric are assembled in a hand-stitching process. Once the final thread is put together by the yarn, it is brushed to achieve a feathery look and feel. This technique comes from the Marche Region, Italy; Cornelio Borda combined it with the proficient hands of Peruvian female artisans.
Emily Farra, Vogue writer and editor
Alpaca fibers are incredibly soft; largely hypoallergenic; more durable and less likely to pill than cashmere; and warmer, yet lighter, than traditional wool. It’s a new way to think about luxury, but the best part, of course, is just enjoying the hygge-worthy comforts of a downy-soft, super-warm alpaca sweater.”
EXPLORE ITEMS MADE OUT OF ALPACA FIBER
The Peruvian design brand Fringe and Peruvian-Italian brand Cornerlio Borda uses Alpaca Fiber as main material for their garments and accesories. Find some of their pieces below: