Fibres From Peru: Vicuna & Alpaca

By Terry Philips

When people think of Peru, clothing isn't always the first thing on their mind. With Machu Picchu, the Nazca Lines and the Amazon to think of it can be easy to overlook the beauty of luxury Peruvian fibres.

These fibres are being used for many things, and have started being sold across the globe. We will look to the background, properties and applications of two of the main fibres: alpaca and vicuna.

Alpaca

Hailing from South America, the alpaca is a domesticated camelid that resembles llamas in appearance. Kept in herds, they are native to high altitude spots of the Andes - this is above sea-level at 3,500m to 5,000m - found across the countries of Ecuador, Bolivia, Chile and Peru.

Their fibre is widely loved, and this has led to them being specifically bred in order to produce hats, textiles, sweaters, gloves, blankets, scarves and ponchos. Sometimes they've even been used for bedding.

Alpaca fleece is the name given to the fibre that is natural taken from an alpaca. Depending on spinning, this can be either heavy or light weight and is known to be luxurious, soft, silky and durable. There are similarities between this and sheep wool, but the alpaca wins on smoothness and warmth. Also, due to it being hard to ignite and water-repellent, using alpaca fibre is recommended by many suppliers.

What is interesting is that the whole process of getting the alpaca fibre into a useable fabric is almost the same as processing wool. All this means that it has been taken on by a variety of designers including Armani.

Vicuna

A relative of the llama, the vicuna is a South American camelid that can be found in the highest alpine areas of the Andes. It lives here with the guanaco and produces fine wool which is used for a variety of things, mainly clothing. They don't produce a lot, and each animal can only be harvested for it once every three years - this makes it very expensive.

What happens when they have the fibre is that it is then knitted together to produce a warm and soft product. It is widely believed that during Inca times, the vicuna was valued for its wool and only royalty were allowed to wear garments made from the animal's fibre under law.

There are around 350,000 remaining today, and while this doesn't make them an endangered species, conservation organizations have said that they still need to be protected from threats such as habitat loss and poaching.



Terry Philips
Article by Terry Philips
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