Alpacas! Myths and Facts

Addressing the 8 most common myths that surround the alpaca industry and textile production.

Myth 1 – Alpacas roam freely in the wild.

Fact - Unlike animals we are familiar with in the United States, there is no such thing as a wild alpaca. Alpacas have been domesticated for thousands of years. Alpacas originated in Asia and migrated to the Americas literally millions of years ago, becoming extinct in North America but thriving in the Andes region of Peru, Bolivia, and Chile.

They have virtually no means of defense from predators and rely solely on the alpaca farmers who raise them for their care and maintenance. Alpacas are now residing all over the world, but home will always be South America where still 90% of alpacas live, and their care and ability to flourish will always be at the hands of humans.

Myth 2 – Alpacas are cramped and ill-treated livestock.

Fact - In Peru alpacas are contained in open paddocks at night for their protection from predators in the region. During the day, they are walked out into the Altiplano [The Altiplano is an area of inland drainage lying in the central Andes, Its height averages about 12,300 feet (3,750 meters) above sea level. The climate is cool with temperatures that vary from 37.4 °F (3 °C) to 53.6 °F (12 °C)]. Within the Altiplano are free range areas where they graze nipping off the tender shoots of the grasses that grow in that region and are tended by a Shepard. Throughout this vast open green space are water sources so that the alpacas can eat and drink as needed during their day. At night, they return to the safety of the paddock.

Myth 3 – The shearing process is damaging to the alpacas.

Fact - Alpacas have always held a revered place in Peruvian culture, predating Incan times through to today. Alpacas are well-respected and well treated and never harmed for their fleece. The shearing of the animals is a needed part of their annual health regime, and its removal aids the alpaca farmer in determining how the alpaca is growing. Without the fleece, the alpaca breeder can see and determine if they have health issues, as well as removing pounds of heavy fleece at the warmest time of year. Shearing takes less than 3 minutes, one time a year. Farmers and shearers strictly adhere to ethically sound practices, ensuring the safety of the animal and the shearer. Without the fleece being removed alpacas can overheat and potentially die of heatstroke and the added burden of excess fleece can cause them to stop eating altogether.

Myth 4 - The Alpaca industry isn’t socially responsible.

Fact - With the onset of global climate change the Altiplano has received more snow than in the decades before. Alpacas do not forage and will not uncover the grass to eat. The government has erected feeding stations, providing dried grasses for the alpacas so that they can continue to trek and get the exercise needed daily while still having access to grazing grass. The farmers and shepherds see to it that they get access to these feeding stations in bad weather.

Peru sets the standard and review quality of life for its workers, having both government and private sector audits. Labor standards are high, with clean, safe work environments being the norm. Many factories provide their employees with additional benefits such as on-site medical and dental care, daycare, scholarship funds for the employees and their dependents. Peru’s Alpaca industry follows socially responsible policies, with many Peruvian Alpaca factories being Fair Trade certified by the World Fair Trade Organization.

In the past 10 years, the Alpaca population has been steadily increasing, showing growth in numbers and with no harm to the land they inhabit.

Alpaca is one of the most sustainable, socially responsible textiles not only for the people involved in the raising of the alpacas, and the harvest of alpaca wool, but within the industry right through to textile fabrication. Eduardo Ferreyros, Peru’s Minister of Foreign Commerce and Tourism in conjunction with the Trade Commission of Peru are on a mission to raise the country’s visibility with regards to this fiber. With this initiative, the goal is educating consumers and raising awareness of the land from which it is derived, as well as the animal.

Alpacas are gentle on the land. They nip off the grasses allowing the natural ground cover to regrow naturally without replanting, or over-planting; with no added chemicals or water. Alpacas feet don’t trample the earth so that plants cannot flourish, nor do they defecate all over, making it necessary to allow the land to rebalance. Alpacas utilize community dung piles making it easy to keep their land pure.

Alpaca fiber production begins with sorting – unlike its cashmere counterparts, alpaca needs no picking. The coarse fibers are located at the edges of the fleece and not dispersed throughout. Therefore, the sorting and grading of the alpaca wool fiber are easier and far less tedious.

Alpaca contains no oils or lanolin that must be scoured from the wool, a gentle soap is all that is needed. Furthermore, it doesn’t bleach, eliminating chlorine from production, water and the environment.

Alpaca dyes readily and again no harsh chemicals need to be used to dye it if you want colors other than the 22 natural colors it comes in. Alpacas are the only fiber production animal with this unique characteristic – the ability to provide a rainbow of natural colors from black through variations of grays and browns to white.

Myth 5 - Alpaca fur is unethical.

Fact - We believe in no-kill fur and take the matter seriously. We, as well as our fabricators only purchase pelts when needed from animals that die naturally. In Peru, the harvesting of pelts is a government regulated industry. Alpacas are always valued and prized alive, first and foremost. Any fur we use in any of our real alpaca friendly fur products is derived from natural causes. Alpaca is the only friendly-fur available as the proceeds are returned to the farmer for investment in their herd and family's future.

Myth 6 - Alpaca is scratchy, itchy, and causes allergic reactions when worn.

Fact - Alpaca is naturally hypoallergenic and contains no oil or lanolin. While it is called a “wool,” it bears little resemblance under a microscope or with scientific study; to that of sheep’s wool.

Alpaca, with its hollow structure is lightweight, breathable and soft. A newborn baby can be wrapped in Alpaca with no adverse reaction. There are several qualities of this fiber, such as Royal Alpaca [Premium], Baby Alpaca, and Superfine which offer a range of micron counts [fineness]. The flat, thin scales of this fibers surface eliminate the itch factor at any count. "Prickle" associated with alpaca is more of a skin sensitivity factor that fades once the skin gets used to the natural fiber, often after a brief amount of wear.

Alpaca fibers are often compared to cashmere however that comparison applies only to the wool's micron count of each individual hair. While both are equal in measure, the hand is different. Cashmere has a bloom which aids in its softness while alpaca does not. On the flip side, this bloom causes cashmere to pill, something that rarely occurs with alpaca.

Additionally alpaca's smoothness enables it to glide over skin, reducing static build up as well as abrasion resulting in less callus build up and blistering. 

You would think fineness would create a delicate yarn, but alpaca is quite durable – the strongest of all natural woolen textiles. In addition, Alpaca is water-resistant and non-flammable, naturally.

Myth 7 - Alpaca is thick and only good for winter apparel.

Fact - Alpaca is about 10% lighter than cashmere. With the smooth and semi-hollow core of its fibers, Alpaca can attain tissue weights and is ideal for more than just winter wear. Alpaca improves any other fiber. When it's blended with other natural and/or synthetic fibers, such as cotton, linen, silk, acrylic or polyester, it results in lighter weight garments, with a wonderful feel.

Alpaca fibers innately have thermal regulating properties, too. The microscopic air pockets in the fiber bring the wearers’ temperature down on warm days and trap body heat on cool ones. Alpaca has one of the highest breathability factors. Because the hairs are hydro-morphic, moisture gathers on the outside of the fiber and is vaporized by the heat of the body, unlike sheep's wool which can hold up to 30% of its weight in moisture. Think wet wool smell. You won't find that with alpaca. Due to this factor alpaca does not retain odor or propagate it. 

“This makes it ideal for performance garments,” said Conrado Falco, Director of the Trade Commission of Peru in New York, adding it’s the perfect choice for “to and from” activities and lifestyle apparel. It can be manufactured on the woolen or worsted systems, resulting in a production range of knits in all gages from chunky to fine.

“Alpaca is extremely adaptable and provides vast design possibilities since it can be altered to make and to be used for nearly anything,” according to Igor Rojas, a leader in the Apparel Industry Department of Peru.

At Warrior Alpaca Socks we know about blending and work to choose the right blend for the needs of the sock and ultimately the needs of the consumer. Each of our socks are designed with the lifestyle of the wearer and we blend accordingly. We also look at care of the socks as well as longevity in our production and design.

Myth 8 - Alpaca is too expensive.

Fact - 100% Alpaca comes in a variety of price points, making it a less expensive option to cashmere while providing a nicer hand-feel than wool. Additionally, when blended with other fibers, Alpaca provides an even greater range of pricing, further broadening its appeal.

Alpaca Wool Socks are a great entry point into experiencing alpaca firsthand.