At Alpaca Collections, we strive to provide products made of natural fibers. Most of what we carry is made of alpaca and manufactured in Peru. Sometimes our products have blends of other natural fibers such as pima cotton, silk, and sheep wool. Our premium products are made with vicuna, guanaco and the best of the best alpaca. Each fiber combination is the result of extensive testing and experience, with the goal to bring the most comfortable, best fitting product to you for your long term enjoyment.
Read on to learn more about the fibers we use and the animals and plants they’re sourced from.
Smaller than its cousin the llama (and never asked to carry cargo) the alpaca has always been bred for its fiber, which is sheared annually (at most) from them in a manner similar to sheep. Domesticated for over 5,000 years, the alpaca was and continues to be the focus of specific breeding programs since pre-Incan times (pre-Incan nobility had their wealth measured primarily by the number of alpacas they owned). Thousands of years later, the Spanish conquistadors preferred their sheep and used the alpaca primarily as a food source. However the Inca, when they retreated to the mountains, brought their precious alpacas with them, saving them from possible extinction. In the 21st century, there are more than 3 million alpaca thriving in the Andes. Even with this many animals, alpaca fiber is still considered a niche fiber in the world of apparel; demand is always greater than supply.
Alpacas have padded feet (no hooves like sheep or goats) and these padded feet do little damage to the terrain it inhabits. Alpacas are also gentle in their eating habits, as they nibble the grasses and plants they eat, without pulling or otherwise damaging the roots. Alpacas don’t bother trees and leave a much smaller footprint on the environment compared to other herding animals, including sheep or goats.
There are two different types of alpaca, the suri and the huacaya. The suri have long coats that look like those old fashioned string mops our favorite school janitors always use. Suri fibers are known for their luster and drape and are typically seen in high end woven goods that showcase the fiber’s interaction with light. The huacaya have shorter, more curly coats more akin to those of sheep. Huacaya fibers are typically found in knitted goods, as the curly nature of the fibers makes it easier to create yarn. The huacaya is also more common because of its stronger constitution.
Alpaca fibers come in 22 color variations, including shades of blacks, browns, whites, grey and even maroon. Alpaca fiber has no lanolin (the oil found in sheep wool), making it hold less dust, allergens and bacteria. It’s odor, stain, flame and wrinkle resistant. It takes and retains dyes without losing its sheen. Alpaca fiber is lighter, warmer and stronger than sheep wool. The highest quality alpaca fibers feel softer and smoother than cashmere. Products made of alpaca fiber are unusually easy to care for and long-lived.
Royal, baby and other categorizations of alpaca fiber
When you see the terms Royal or Baby applied to alpaca, they refer to the thickness of the fiber, typically measured in microns. There is no official standard regarding the micron width associated with a particular name and some companies have their own vocabulary to describe their product. Most of what we carry is labeled as either Royal alpaca or Baby alpaca. For us, Royal alpaca means that the fibers used are less than 19 microns in diameter and Baby alpaca means the fibers used are between 19-21 microns in diameter.
Any fiber less than 21 microns feels soft to the touch and doesn’t cause that itch often associated with wool garments. Fibers greater than 21 microns are best used in materials that don’t rest against the skin, such as the exterior of certain coats and jackets, or on carpets.
We guarantee all our Royal alpaca and Baby alpaca products meet the specifications described above, are made of the best quality alpaca fibers and feel soft and comfortable against your skin.
Guanacos are wild cousins to domesticated alpacas. They have a double coat similar to cashmere. Their light camel color under coat is one of the finest natural fibers in the world. The fiber is second only to its wild cousin the Vicuna. The small diameter of the fiber, the process of separating the double coat and the scarcity of the animals combine to make guanaco one of the most prized fibers in the world.
With approximately 500,000 animals remaining, guanacos are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). This means all legal sales of guanaco products must be accompanied by a CITES certificate, demonstrating that the fiber was collected in a sustainable manner.
Known to have the finest natural fiber in the world, the vicuna is the national animal of Peru. Sacred to the Incas, only Inca royalty could wear Vicuna fiber. In the time of the Incas, the vicuna were gathered as part of communal efforts known as Chacu, where every four years people herded large numbers of vicuna into carefully laid traps. The animals were sheared and then released. The modern version of the Chacu continues today as the Peruvian government oversees a program that makes sure the Vicuna are captured, sheared and returned to the wild, not to be sheared again for at least two more years.
With approximately 150,000 animals remaining, vicunas are also listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). As with guanaco, this means all legal sales of vicuna products must be accompanied by a CITES certificate.
Pima cotton is extra-long staple cotton grown in very limited production in just a few locations around the world. As the description suggests, Pima cotton has a longer staple length, which results in a stronger, finer fiber with greater uniformity than regular cotton. This creates apparel with greater durability and because of the fineness of the fibers, more can be spun into yarn of a particular count, which improves the softness and feel, the color brilliance and the drape of a Pima fabric. Peruvian pima cotton is harvested by hand resulting in a brilliant white shade that takes well to dyes.
Silk fibers come from the Bombyx mori silkworm. Silk has a smooth, soft texture that isn’t slick. It’s one of the strongest natural fibers and its ability to absorb moisture makes it comfortable to wear in warm weather or while active. Due to its low conductivity, Silk also works well in colder weather, holding warm air close to the skin.
Yarn or fabric made of a combination of alpaca and silk results in an extremely soft garment with a subtle drape that flatters almost any figure. Its lush and fluid texture makes it excellent for wearing against the skin.