Why Alpaca?


"Why Alpaca?" is one of the most frequent questions I usually get when talking about our clothing line.

The answer's simple: "Because alpaca is great!"

Ella Ember wouldn't be here today if I believed otherwise. So the real question should be: "Why is alpaca so great?"

About 12 years ago, after wearing my first alpaca garment, I fell in love with it. It is then that I started researching the qualities of this fiber to understand what made it so special. In this article, I will share with you what I learned about alpaca the animal and its fiber throughout these years. I hope you find this information helpful.

Alpaca the animal.

Alpacas are camelid mammals. With "camel" in the name, you would know a camelid when you see one — camels, llamas, and, yes, alpacas.

Alpacas are one of many camelids that live in the Andes Mountains. Their population is concentrated in the region between Peru and Bolivia and local inhabitants have used their fiber to make clothing for thousands of years.

Because of the high value of alpaca fiber in the international market in recent years, alpaca spinning mills are constantly working with local alpaca breeding communities to refine their breeding practices and produce higher-quality fiber.

In the breeding practices used for alpaca fiber, the animals are very well cared, which is something I appreciate as an animal lover. To produce high-quality yarn, alpacas need the same things you and I would need for a balanced life: excellent diet, room and opportunity to be active, plenty of rest, and living in a place you love. For alpacas, this place is the high-altitude, damp, cold plateaus found in the Andes Mountains.

Baby Alpaca?

The term "baby alpaca" does not mean that baby alpacas are sheared to get their wool. That would be awful and harmful to the animal! “Baby alpaca fiber” is the name of higher quality fiber (in average 22.5 microns in diameter) found in adult animals. So yes, only adult alpacas are sheared; baby alpacas are not.

Which is good to know!

Part of my attraction to this fiber — both as a wearer and a producer — rests in its fundamental production truth: The quality of the yarn is directly proportional to the quality of the alpaca's life.

That's a value I can support! 

Alpaca the fiber.

But what makes alpaca fiber better than other, more common fibers, like wool, cotton, or man-made fibers?

Soft to the touch. Alpaca wool feels softer than sheep's wool of the same diameter. This is due to the size and positioning of the scales found in the fiber’s shaft.

In practical terms, it means that alpaca garments are not itchy and feel softer to the touch than wool. I love that part!
Hypoallergenic. Most people who are allergic to wool are really allergic to lanolin.

Lanolin is an oil found in wool that is not found in alpaca. Because of this, many people — like my father! — who can’t wear wool can actually wear alpaca.
Insulating. One of the most amazing qualities of alpaca fiber is how it can be so light and yet so warm! We're tempted to equating "warmth" with "heavy". But alpaca fibers have a hollow core structure, which allows the fiber to catch pockets of air and create an insulating curtain around it.

When the weather is damp and cold, your alpaca sweater will definitely keep you warm without weighing you down.
Breathability. Beyond being simply "lighter" than other fibers, alpaca has similar moisture retention as cotton and half the moisture retention as wool. This means that its breathability is similar to cotton but better than wool.

This quality, along with the lightness of alpaca fiber, means you can wear an alpaca sweater indoors without suffocating when central heating is on.
Odor resistance. I explained in our previous resource that by hanging your alpaca sweater or cardigan outside and airing it out, you will get rid of most undesirable odors in your garment.

This is a quality that I love, since it saves time (no constant washing needed) and makes the alpaca garments very durable.

And these are just some of my favorite alpaca qualities. There are other qualities that make alpaca fleece a great fiber: low flammability, ability to wick away moisture from the body, and its pill resistance, among others.

After over 12 years of wearing alpaca clothing, it's hard not to love every alpaca garment in my wardrobe! But don't just take me at my word. Try any one of our baby alpaca scarves, sweaters, or cardigans and I guarantee you'll fall madly in love, too.

There's no easier way to keep warm, feel good, and look great than with Ella Ember.

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