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Alpaca fleece is one of the most prized natural fibers in the world, and a favorite material for luxury fashion designers and hand knitters alike. The extremely soft, lightweight, and durable material comes from the alpaca, which is native to Peru, and alpaca fleece and yarn is a staple of winter wardrobes, from socks to hats to sweaters to coats and more.

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What Is Alpaca Fiber?

Alpaca fiber is hair that has been gathered from an alpaca. The alpaca is a llama-like animal, but alpacas are usually much smaller than their fellow camelid. There are two different breeds of alpacas, huacaya and suri, and each produces a slightly different type of fiber. Alpacas also come in 22 natural colors.

All alpaca wool fibers are extremely soft as a result of the small diameter of each fiber strand, and alpaca fiber is five times warmer and stronger than sheep’s wool due to the air pockets in the fiber, which allows it to trap and contain more heat. Alpaca fiber is considered extremely luxurious from it’s soft and durable nature, making it a fixture for winter wear clothing.

The History of Alpaca Fiber

Alpaca fiber has a storied history dating back to the ancient tribes in the Andean highlands, in Bolivia and Peru, where the alpaca’s ancestor, the vicuna, was first domesticated. After selective breeding of the vicuna in the Andes, the alpaca was developed as an integral part to the Inca tribes’ survival. The animals were raised not just for their coats but also for meat.

Clothing made from alpaca fiber was reserved for royalty. Many of the alpacas died out when the Spanish conquistadors invaded the territory and deemed the Merino sheep more valuable, but in the 1800s, the English discovered the alpaca fiber and it regained popularity. Alpacas were exported around the world, and are raised in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand for their fiber. However, Peruvian alpaca fiber is still the most popular today.

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Where Does Alpaca Fiber Come From?

Alpaca fiber comes from the alpaca, which are native to South America. Alpacas live in extreme climates, which helps them develop their coveted coats. Alpacas are generally shorn in the spring, which allows them to have shorter hair during the warmer months, and the raw fleece can be spun, dyed, woven, or felted. Although they are native to Peru, alpacas were exported to many countries around the world and live in the United States, Europe, and Australia as well.

What Are the Characteristics of Alpaca Fiber?

  • Hypoallergenic: Alpaca fiber has no lanolin, which is a natural wax secreted by some wool-producing animals that people can be allergic to, and therefore, it is naturally hypoallergenic.
  • Soft: Alpaca fiber has a soft, silky feel, and while it is warm like sheep wool, it does not have the same potentially itchy nature. This is because the alpaca’s fiber is naturally softer to the touch because it is several microns smaller in diameter, similar to merino wool, giving it its characteristic softness.
  • Water repellent: Alpaca fiber is naturally water resistant because it has an incredibly low water retention rate.
  • Warm: Alpaca fiber is extremely warm, but it also maintains a lightweight nature, as the airyness of the fiber allows the wool to trap and retain heat without becoming too heavy.