National Alpaca Farm Day
Check out the farm
What Makes Alpaca Special
Perhaps you've begun to see the term “alpaca” used when talking about knits and accessories. If so, you may wonder just what alpaca is, and why it is different from other wools. You can find endless technical information regarding alpaca on the web, however, there is one main reason why consumers can't get enough — it simply feels better to wear than any other textile.
Check out our video of Alpaca Farm Day to see alpacas in their habitat, and make sure to visit an alpaca farm at some point to feel the unbelievably soft wool of these animals and to learn about why they’re an improved, eco-friendly alternative to sheep’s wool and synthetics. The large, majestic creatures bring lots of joy and awe, and are worth beholding in person!
The Benefits of Alpaca
Alpaca feels better because it is the lightest and strongest natural fiber known, but that's not all of what makes it so special. When it comes to softness, it is on par with cashmere, yet it’s rarer. For every 3 tons of cashmere harvested, only one ton of alpaca is gathered. The epicenter for alpaca is Peru, while cashmere is produced and processed in Iran and Afghanistan.
Alpaca has other advantages over cashmere as well. It comes in 28 beautiful and lustrous natural colors, is more wrinkle-resistant, is easier to clean, and doesn’t form the little matted balls or pills that are so prevalent with cashmere. Cashmere should be dry cleaned, whereas alpaca can easily be hand washed. Alpaca also provides superior thermal insulation, when compared one on one. This can be explained by the way the alpaca's fleece has adapted over time to combat the often harsh Peruvian climate.
The big difference with alpaca fiber comes from evolution. Alpacas are native to the Andean region of South America. They are raised high above the tree line in an arid climate with vast temperature swings, ranging from -4 F at night, to 70+ F in the daytime.
Over thousands of years, their fleece has evolved into a thermal regulator of sorts. Alpaca wool creates pockets of microscopic space with the ability to hold air inside, heating via the animal's body warmth, or insulating against the heat of the sun. Their fleece creates the perfect coat for the alpaca's environment, becoming a natural barrier to keep cold air from getting to the skin at night, and in the heat of the day, keeping them comfortably cool. Thanks to their perfectly evolved fleece, alpacas keep comfortable and safe no matter the climate change, allowing them to never get too hot or too cold. The thermal properties work for humans too! Wearing alpaca wool will keep you warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.
The fleece, more akin to hair than anything else, doesn’t absorb moisture the way other wools do, sheep’s wool and cashmere included. This aids in controlling the humidity that surrounds the animal, or human, adding another level to this thermal protection. This is also why alpaca does not retain odor — it doesn't absorb it.
Does Alpaca Wool Beat Synthetic Fibers?
The majority of clothing you find in the market right now is made from synthetic fabrics. Synthetic fibers, such as nylon, polyester, and acrylic were originally invented by scientists to improve on naturally occurring animal and plant fibers, yet over time they have proved to have many disadvantages. Synthetic fibers burn more readily than natural and are prone to heat damage such as melting. More electrostatic charge is also generated by synthetics. They are not skin friendly, making them uncomfortable for long periods of wear and irritating to some with allergies. Synthetic garments are also non-biodegradable.
Wearing garments constructed from any natural fiber automatically has many advantages over synthetics, but alpaca fiber's characteristics makes it leaps and bounds better than these cheap, non-sustainable materials. Compared with synthetics, alpaca fiber has superior breathability, low static electricity and the ability to wick away body moisture. Alpaca is naturally flame-resistant, whereas synthetics melt onto the skin, increasing skin damage if caught on fire. This is why so many synthetics are chemically treated with flame-retardant chemicals. Alpaca feels luxuriously soft against the skin and is hypoallergenic. When the life of an alpaca garment has eventually passed, it is biodegradable, due to its 100 percent natural content.
Alpaca Wool vs. Sheep’s Wool
Alpaca is often compared to and sold alongside wool, another natural fiber option more commonly known in the fashion industry. People buy wool for its warmth and protection against cold winds. In actuality, alpaca fiber is warmer, stronger, and more insulating. Many people cannot wear wool because it contains lanolin, causing allergic reactions. Alpaca is lanolin-free and doesn't hold dust, providing a superior option for those with wool allergies. These qualities help alpaca products to stay clean longer, requiring less laundering.