By Adrienne Suhm
Seeking a chic sustainable wool alternative to keep you warm this Fall? Look no further- alpaca fabric is gaining popularity on a global scale for its warmth, comfort, durability, and of course, sustainability.
These small, sturdy camelids have been prized since ancient times in South America for the high quality of their fleece. They are bred on ranches primarily in Peru’s highlands, a harsh grassy environment that varies dramatically in both altitude and temperature. In fact, 80% of the world’s alpaca population is located in southern Peru (an estimated 3.5 million alpacas), the global center for alpaca fiber production. Each ranch contains anywhere from a few hundred to a few thousand alpacas that roam freely about the grasslands in smaller groups. Ranchers follow specific herds around the area, often moving between temporary stone homes to keep a full time watch over their animals.
The Peruvian highland ecosystem is resilient against damage caused by alpaca grazing habits, allowing it to regenerate year after year. In fact, alpacas actively contribute to sustaining the ecosphere because they do not destroy grass root systems – unlike goats raised for cashmere, they avoid pulling grass from the root while grazing, drink less water than other domesticated mammals, and fertilize the soil with their waste. Even their feet, which are uniquely padded, are designed to tread more gently than hooves, reducing damage to the lands.
Alpacas are sheared every spring after the age of one. Each animal yields both regular alpaca fibers and more highly sought after baby alpaca fibers (taken from the softer, finer back and chest fur), amounting to around seven pounds of fleece in total per animal. The fiber is then spun into yarn in one of twenty-four natural colors. Some high fashion brands like Louis Vuitton and Versace have begun to recognize the benefits of producing garments made from alpaca textiles, but elborne brand Voz has created handmade apparel and accessories woven from soft baby Alpaca fibers since its conception in 2012. By partnering with local artisans in communities around South America, Voz produces entire collections from natural and sustainable alpaca fiber. All yarns are locally sourced and dyed to reduce environmental impacts, and local artisans are commissioned by Voz to create textile art using indigenous artisanal techniques, skills that have been preserved and passed down for many generations. So, next time you’re searching for sustainable knits, go south with alpaca wool.
Photo by Voz