The alpaca is revered in Peruvian culture, dating back to the Inca Empire. For thousands of years, rural families in the Peruvian highlands (called alpaqueros) have raised herds of alpaca and understood the superior quality of their fiber. I’m so proud to be a part of this tradition and since visiting Peru to see my supply chain firsthand, I have felt a sense of gratitude every time I work with this special material.
Our experience in the Peruvian highlands
I was first drawn to alpaca by its softness and quality - and because it came from Peru. As a woman who was raised in Colombia, I am happy to work with a fiber from the same part of the world as my family. I didn’t know then that when I visited Peru in 2018, I would leave a piece of my heart behind with the alpacas.
I think about one moment during a three-day trek to Ausangate mountain; I was watching from a distance as a flock of alpacas roamed and grazed around a little house on the hill. There I saw the beautiful yet severe circumstances of the Peruvian highlands, and the way the alpaqueros worked so hard to care for their flock and carry on their traditions for generations. I felt inside me a sense of connection and groundedness that made me so thankful to be a part of their way of life.
It was an honor to be invited by the Peruvian government to visit Alpaca Fiesta and to experience the process of alpaca production in person. Meeting the alpacas and the alpaqueros, and seeing where they lived, turned what was once just a beautiful fabric into a deep feeling of connection and mutual responsibility between myself and the people, animals, and natural elements involved in creating this material.
Why we love Peruvian alpaca
Finer than cashmere and warmer than wool, Peruvian alpaca is a truly luxurious fiber. It’s hollow nature helps to insulate and balance body temperature, providing warmth while being lightweight and breathable. Unlike sheep’s wool which contains lanolin, alpaca is hypoallergenic and isn’t itchy. From sustainability experts to luxury fashion lovers, almost everyone can agree that alpaca is an incredible material.
Alpaca is one of the world’s most sustainable and ethical natural fibers. As I saw firsthand in Peru, alpaca live their lives roaming freely across highland plains where they forage and graze to their heart’s content. The alpaqueros who breed and care for them in exchange for the gift of their fiber treat them with the utmost love and care.
Unlike cows, sheep, and cashmere goats, alpaca have soft-pad feet with two toenails, which means that they walk gently on the landscape and do not contribute to desertification. As they graze, they nibble the tops of grasses rather than ripping them out at the root, helping to preserve biodiversity and soil health in the local ecosystem. Alpaca also live on less food than other fiber-producing animals and thrive in altitudes where few plants can grow, so they are uniquely adapted to live in harmony with their natural highland habitat.
I have loved exploring and working with the natural variety of colors, textures, and weights that come from alpaca. Alpaca fleece is found in more than 20 different shades, ranging from white to brown to black. Fibers from the Suri alpaca are longer, shinier, and straighter, while fibers from the Huacaya alpaca look more like sheep’s wool as they are soft, crimpy, and fluffy. My personal favorite is baby alpaca, which is actually not from babies at all, but comes from the softest parts of fluff on adult alpacas!
Alpaca fleece is naturally durable, stain-resistant, and non-flammable, which means that alpaca clothes are made to last. Your alpaca sweaters won’t pill, stretch out, or irritate your skin. This is an amazing material, but most of all, it is a piece of an ecosystem and a beautiful tradition that gives so much more than just warmth.
Pacomarca Sustainable Alpaca Network
All of our alpaca yarns are from Inca Tops, which sources from Pacomarca and their partner alpaqueros. Inca Tops and Pacomarca are both divisions of Grupo Inca, which bridges the gap between alpaca farmers and the greater textile industry.
Pacomarca is a network that produces 100% traceable alpaca fiber and works to preserve the tradition of alpaca herding to improve the lives of rural families. They promote sustainability in alpaca production through focusing on “the improvement of fiber quality, which leads to higher prices in the market and maintaining the interest of farmers in raising alpacas.”
Pacomarca and Inca Tops go directly to the alpaqueros each year to shear the alpacas and purchase their fiber at the highest market price. They have developed an efficient and ethical technology for shearing Peruvian alpacas specifically, called Inca Esquila, and they offer this to the alpaqueros for free. The farmers can then enter their alpaca fiber into a contest for the finest fiber, and each year Pacomarca builds an eco-friendly home for the winner, which is fitted specially to the highland environment where they live.
After Pacomarca buys the fibers, they are then processed by hand by craftswoman specialists at an OEKO-TEX certified plant owned by Grupo Inca. Visiting the Inca Tops plant in Peru, where I learned about the process of spinning fleece into yarns, gave me transparency to see how the workers were treated. From the farmers to the craftswomen involved in producing these beautiful fibers, all people are paid living wages, provided with benefits and reasonable working conditions, and treated with dignity and respect. The alpacas are also always well-respected, cared for, and are never harmed for their fleece.
When I visited Peru I was lucky to get a glimpse into the world of the alpacas and alpaqueros. I met alpacas, farmers, spinners, and knitters and was given the opportunity to start to build deeper relationships with my partners. Before visiting, I knew that I loved alpaca for its quality, it’s feel, and its sustainability, but because of the authenticity and personal touch that I saw in Peru, I have fallen in love with alpaca all over again.