Times have changed a lot since I started in the alpaca business in 2003. Back then, alpaca wasn’t as popular as it is now in the US, Europe, and Asia. It seems that 16 years later, consumers are much more knowledgeable about alpacas and alpaca products, but the question still pops up frequently: Does the Baby Alpaca used to make our garments and bedding come from Alpaca Babies?
Sometimes, when people ask this question, they do it in a reproaching manner which shows what they are thinking: “are your products made with fiber that comes from killing baby alpacas???”
Well, the answer is NO. But let me explain. When the technical term “baby alpaca” was first used many decades ago, it was done so to identify a fiber that is so fine, it resembles the fiber of a baby alpaca animal. Yes… bad marketing in 2019, but many decades ago, it must have made sense.
One of the main things that is important to point out is that the fiber that is commercially produced comes from shearing the animal, not from killing it.
The alpaca fiber used to make garments, blankets, carpets and other similar products comes mainly from adult animals who are between 3-4 years of age. Every time an adult alpaca is sheared, the fiber that is obtained from different parts of the animal’s body is separated according to its thickness.
Much of the hair that comes from an alpaca’s belly is called “BABY ALPACA”. This fiber has a thickness of 21.5-24 microns and is very soft to the touch.
The next quality fiber that comes from an adult animal is 25-27 microns and is called “SUPERFINE ALPACA”. It is still soft, but some people with sensitive skin may have a hard time wearing a superfine alpaca garment, especially a garment that directly touches their skin in sensitive areas, such as the neck.
The fiber from the legs and other parts of the alpaca’s body is called “ALPACA” and it is not used for garments, but more so for rugs and such.
There is one other alpaca fiber quality that is finer than “baby alpaca” and it’s loved by the fashion industry. About 3-5% of the fiber that comes from shearing an adult animal is extremely fine, usually between 19-21 microns in thickness. It comes from the chest area of the animal and it is called “ROYAL ALPACA”. As you may expect, royal alpaca is very expensive and is produced in very limited quantities.
As for us, we believe that nowadays, the best value that we can offer to our customers comes from using mainly baby alpaca yarn to make our garments and high-quality superfine for our alpaca wool blanket throws.
Garments often are in contact with the skin, and baby alpaca is soft and fine enough not to cause any discomfort when the garment is worn.
The high-quality superfine alpaca (usually 24.5 microns in thickness) we use for the blanket throws is a great value option for these products. You get a nice, soft, warm throw at a competitive price.
I hope this short explanation sheds some light into the terms commonly used to refer to alpaca fiber, the different qualities available, and how these are used.