Considering the Alpaca Industry

29th July 2009

The use of alpaca fibre for items such as clothing and blankets originated in South America, where the fantastic wool bearing animals were bred from the wild Vicuna over thousands of years. Today, alpaca are bred in a number of countries throughout the world by both hobbyists and farmers, who are attracted by the beguiling nature and pasture friendly behaviour of the animals. By far the largest population of the animals is still in Peru, where an estimated three million live. Compared to this, populations in the USA, Australia and the UK are very small; the majority of alpaca outside Peru live in Bolivia, Chile and Argentina.

Alpaca clothing is very comfortable, soft and warm, so the fibre is sought after for scarves, shawls and baby garments, leading to increasing populations of the animals in Europe, the USA and Australia. The exportation of the animals to different countries has been a concern for many Peruvian people. The CEPES (Peruvian Centre for Social Studies) estimates that around 65,000 families in the rural Andean regions rely on the alpaca, for food, clothing and as a major source of income. The unique farming knowledge of these people has been passed down for generations; they are experts in alpaca husbandry. Women in the families will spin and weave the fibre into necessary items with incredible skill, either for their own families or to be sold for a profit. The alpaca is so vital to the Peruvian economy that exportation of the animals was banned between 1931 and 1993, to prevent the very best animals being removed from breeding herds and to maintain the livelihoods of traditional alpaca herders. After 1993 the Peruvian government allowed some exportation to occur once again, though this was limited in 1996 to prevent numbers being overly depleted. It is considered very important to keep some of the very best quality animals in their native lands; other countries purchasing the very best animals could eventually pose a threat to the traditional alpaca industry.

Luckily, there are numerous suppliers of alpaca clothing in the UK who understand how important it is to support the economy of countries such as Peru. It is possible to buy alpaca clothing and home ware which has been made from the fleece of a true Andean animal, and woven by those with a skill passed down through the generations. Most consumers who are interested in discovering the luxuriant feel and sumptuous softness of alpaca fibre want authentic, traditional products. When searching for UK retailers of alpaca clothing it is important to see how their items are produced. Those who operate a fair trade kind of agreement with their Andean suppliers should be first choice. By treating suppliers fairly, they are helping to maintain families and to preserve a traditional way of life. You can enjoy your very own alpaca clothing items all the more knowing those who made them are getting a fair deal, and that techniques used in their manufacture are performed by those most skilled with the fibre – the people of the Andes region.