Since alpacas began being imported into the United States about twenty years ago, alpaca fiber is climbing its way up the value chain making it a good investment. At first, many “farmers” were hobbyists who were curious about the strange-looking South American animals and decided to raise them as a sideline. With the fluctuations in the stock market, changes in the import and export to other countries, and a larger focus on the environment, alpaca fiber products and yarns have found a niche and growth in popularity. Their normally docile nature and compatibility with domestication have made them some of the most sought after animals today.
Alpaca fiber comes from one of two types of alpacas. The majority of the alpaca population is made up of the fuzzy, cotton-ball looking Huacaya. A very rare type with longer fibers that almost resemble dreadlocks is the Suri. They have been domestic animals in the high mountain terrain of Peru, Chile, and Bolivia for thousands of years. They are very comfortable in colder climates but must be constantly monitored during warm months to avoid heat exhaustion and death.
Once the alpaca fiber has been sheared and processed it is said to be softer than silk, more comfortable than cotton, warmer than synthetics, not scratchy like sheep’s wool, and extremely strong, almost indestructible. There have been woven garments found in Peruvian ruins that date back over two thousand years.
Alpaca fiber has no lanolin and is softer and more comfortable to wear than clothing made out of heavier natural fibers. The clothing is hypoallergenic which can be very important to persons with sensitive skin or allergy problems.
The fiber comes naturally in more than twenty shades with enough variations to keep dyeing to a minimum. Undyed fiber is even softer and more resilient than dyed fiber. It can be dyed if necessary into a multitude of colors and is perfect for many garments, rugs, throws, or other woven items.
Farmers, breeders, handlers, and spinners are finding that alpaca fiber is in very high demand making it a financially sound business decision as well as great for the environment. The fibers can be used by the farmers and breeders in their own facility or sold to private spinners. There is an alpaca fiber coop that is a central meeting place for those wishing to buy fiber and make alpaca products.