Alpaca Clothes, Fashion and Functionality9th November 2009
The alpaca is a smaller, domesticated species of the South American camelid family, and has been farmed for its fibre for thousands of years. Originally from the highlands of Peru, they are now raised all over the world, and their versatile wool is used for a very wide range of alpaca clothes, bedding and homewares.
Alpaca farming is considered to be a very low-impact method, and the animals are sometimes called the ‘green livestock’. They live up to twenty years; twice as long as the average sheep, and only eat around 1% of their body weight daily. This causes minimal impact on the surrounding environment, yet they provide a thick, fine fleece throughout their lives.
Alpaca fibre is sheared annually, and comes from two main breeds; Suri and Huacaya. The latter produces a thicker fibre, with a soft spongy texture, which creates a naturally elastic yarn, perfect for knits such as jumpers, socks and hats. Suri alpacas have a finer, silkier coat, which is best suited for luxurious woven products, such as shawls and blankets. Due to the extraordinary range of natural colours found in the fibres, alpaca clothes can be created in over 22 shades, ranging from black, white, and grey, to silver, cream and a variety of browns. This huge selection eliminates the need for damaging chemical dyes, and ensures that alpaca fibre is always 100% natural.
The thread used to create alpaca clothes are naturally hollow, which when woven, provides a light-weight garment, with more warmth than sheep’s wool, or man-made threads such as nylon or polyester. This quality has made alpaca a favourite amongst outdoor sports enthusiasts in particular, although the durable wool provides reliable warmth for anyone feeling the cold as the seasons change! The heat-retaining properties of alpaca yarn make it particularly luxurious when used as socks, blankets, and cushions, and it can even help your hot water bottle to last longer on the coldest of evenings!
The process of shearing, spinning and weaving is very similar to other wools, though alpaca fibre is stronger than other fabrics. This is due to the length of the fibres, and a longer length results in a much stronger weave, which will generally last longer than blend wools or cashmere, without pulling or ‘bobbling’. The unsightly holes that can appear in the heels of socks or elbows of other garments are rarely present in alpaca clothes, and other products such as cushions and blankets are equally as durable.
The luxurious, silky texture of alpaca clothes and bedding is in part due to the absence of lanolin in the material. This results in a hypoallergenic yarn, which does not have the scratchy, ‘prickly’, quality that can be uncomfortable in traditional wools. Consequently, alpaca products are ideal for those with sensitive skin, particularly babies and young children. The smooth, soft feel of alpaca clothes is becoming increasingly popular, and designers such as Armani use the material in their range of coats and suits; the strength and warmth of the fabric adding additional quality to their coveted designs. The natural properties of alpaca have made it a much sought material, for an incredible variety of uses.