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What Is Vicuña Wool?
Vicuña wool comes from vicuñas, which are South American camelids that live in the high alpine areas of the Andes mountains in Peru. Vicuñas grow a very fine wool cherished for its softness, lightness, and natural color. The vicuña’s wool is exceptionally warm, which helps to regulate the animal’s body heat in freezing Andean temperatures. Vicuña wool is harvested by shearing the animal’s coat, and spinning it into fibers used to make garments like socks, sweaters, scarves, insulation for coats and suits, blankets, throws, and other homewares.
A Brief History of Vicuña Wool
For centuries, humans have been harvesting the wool of the Andean vicuña for use in garments and home furnishings. Here is a brief history of vicuña wool.
- Incas prized vicuña wool in the pre-Colombian era. Vicuña wool was prized by the Incas at the height of their prominence in South America, from around the thirteenth century to the early sixteenth century. The Incas considered vicuña wool to be a coat of pure gold, and they reserved the privilege of wearing it for Incan royalty. At this time, millions of vicuñas ran free in the high Andean region of Peru.
- Conquistadors hunted the vicuña during the sixteenth century. The Spanish conquistadors discovered the luxury of vicuña wool—calling it “the silk of the new world”—when they arrived in South America in the early sixteenth century. The Spanish used firearms to hunt and kill the vicuña for their wool instead of simply shearing their coats, which ushered in a centuries-long period of humans poaching vicuñas for their wool.
- Vicuñas became an endangered species by the mid-twentieth century. By the 1960s, there were only about 6,000 vicuñas living in Peru, and the Peruvian government placed the vicuña on the endangered species list. The Peruvian government began implementing strict conservation efforts, including the creation of a vicuña reserve called Pampas Galeras, a 40 square mile reserve in Peru's Ayacucho region.
- Vicuña wool is one of the most coveted and rare luxury materials in modern times. Today there are around 200,000 wild vicuñas living in Peru. The vicuña is now Peru’s national animal. Conservation limits how much vicuña wool can be collected. Vicuña wool is produced and manufactured into products by a very small number of brands and manufacturers are required to shear the animal’s wool after catching them in the wild. This contributes to the wool’s market value. Today, vicuña wool can cost between $399 and $600 per kilo, compared to cashmere which is around $80 per kilo.
5 Characteristics of Vicuña Wool
Here are a few things that make vicuña wool exceptional:
- Long production time: Vicuña coats grow very slowly, and sometimes they take as long as three years to grow back after being sheared. A single vicuña produces about 0.5 kilograms (1.1 pounds) of wool per year, which makes vicuña wool very rare and valuable.
- Extremely fine: Vicuña wool is one of the finest natural growing fibers in the world. One vicuña fiber measures about 12 microns, or 12 thousandths of a millimeter. This makes vicuña wool incredibly soft.
- Warmth: Vicuñas live in the Andes, a very high mountain range where temperatures regularly drop below freezing. In order to insulate the vicuña and help regulate its body temperature, the wool fibers have tiny scales, allowing the fibers to interlock to trap air and heat. This makes vicuña wool exceptionally warm.
- Natural color: Vicuña wool is typically cinnamon-colored or pale white, making it very easy to integrate in one’s wardrobe.
- Comfort: Vicuña wool is 10 percent lighter than cashmere and is also hypoallergenic.
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