“Alpaca” is a Spanish word derived from the Aymara name “Allpacu”, or the Quechuan names “Pacos” or “Pacoshas”. Paintings made on rocks more than 8000 years ago were a reference to the interaction between the ancient Peruvians and the alpacas. Early inhabitants began the domestication process of alpacas between 4000 and 5000 B.C.
The use of alpaca fibre in textiles began around 2500 B.C., and became increasingly important through time in ancient Peruvian cultures. Woven textiles reflected different levels of power and were often given as tribute to the State or to local lords in return for favours or services, such as in barter trading.
It is estimated that there were more than 10 million alpacas in Peru before the Spanish conquest, and only one out of ten survived. The Spanish invasion and conquest resulted in a severe setback to the breeding development of alpacas. Also, the importation of foreign cattle resulted in the displacement of alpacas to higher, colder and more arid areas. At present, it is estimated that 3.7 million alpacas inhabit the highlands of the Peruvian Andes (In the areas of: Puno, Arequipa, Cuzco, Ayacucho, Huancavelica and Apurimac), representing 80% of the worldwide alpaca population.
To more than one million small alpaca farmers in the central Andes of South America, alpacas are an important pillar for livelihood.Alpacas are also an extremely important element of cultural identity. According to the Peruvian National Institute of Statistics and Informatics (INEI) census in 2012, a population of 3.7 alpacas support these Peruvian families.
Alpacas nibble only the tops of grasses and other plants; they do not rip plants out of the ground, resulting in less disturbance of the vegetation and allowing it to grow back.
In contrast to goats and sheep, which have sharp hooves that damage pasture and soil, alpacas have two toes with toenails on top and a soft pad on the bottom of each foot that minimizes their effect on pastureland. In other words, the grass system is not disturbed by alpacas, allowing the soil and their habitat to remain intact.
The natural habitat of alpacas is about 3,800 metres above sea level. At this altitude, the water supply is natural and the land is generally not suitable for agriculture. This makes alpacas more environmentally friendly than all other fibre-producing livestock that often contribute significantly to serious environmental problems. Vegetable fibres also represent a problem for the environment. For example, in Australia, 2,830 litres of water are needed to produce 1 kg of cotton.
Fibers and natural colors
Alpaca fibre comes in more than 22 natural colours. These colours are classified into nine pure colours: White, light fawn, light camel, camel, light brown, brown, grey, brown/black and black with many other subtle shades and hues. Therefore, alpaca fibre can be blended into an infinite array of natural colours, including combinations that do not occur naturally, thereby avoiding industrial dyeing and saving important amounts of water and energy.
Alpaca fibre is an excellent insulator and additionally it is highly flame-resistant, which makes the fibre optimal for home products.