Baby Alpaca – no babies involved

alpaca

Last weekend, we participated in the Fair Trade Holiday Festival here in Madison. One of our perennial best sellers – the Baby Alpaca Scarf – was featured in our booth. More than once, I heard a passersby say something to the effect, “wow, that’s so soft, but I just don’t like the idea of baby alpacas being sheared.”

After politely correcting this misconception throughout the day, it was clear we needed to do some educating on what baby alpaca actually is and is not.

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Contrary to what the name might suggest, baby alpaca refers to fleece that is sheared from the very softest parts of adult alpacas (not babies).  The parts that don’t come into much contact with the ground, shrubs, or trees – namely the tops of the shoulders and upper back.

Technically, baby alpaca means the fibers are no more than 21.5 microns in diameter. These ultra-fine fibers are stunningly soft and lightweight, but stronger and less prone to pilling than sheep’s wool. It’s also seven times warmer but even more breathable than wool thanks to microscopic air pockets in the fibers.
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Many people who have skin sensitivities to wool can wear alpaca without problems.  Because it’s free of the lanolin found in wool which can cause a mild allergic reaction.

But wait, there’s more! You know that $50 cashmere sweater you saw at the mall? Yeah, that’s probably environmentally damaging factory-farm cashmere. Our alpacas are raised by small-scale herders and are free to roam far and wide in the spectacular mountains of Peru, like they have for thousands of years since before the time of the Incas. Our production team works closely with the herders to maximize their economic opportunities while also giving support to local health care and education programs. With Fair Indigo Alpaca, there’s a whole lotta warmth to go around.

Shop Alpaca at fairindigo.com

Arequipa. Alpaca’s Capital City.

Situated at 2,335 meters (7,661 feet) above sea level in the Andes Mountains, Arequipa is Peru’s second most populous city with a population of nearly a million. Despite its location in the tropic zone, the elevation prevents it from exceeding 77 degrees Fahrenheit or dipping below 40 at night. At the higher elevations outside the city, the temperature drops much lower (as we unwittingly discovered on our last trip there…even our hearty Wisconsin skin was no match for the fierce Andean winds).

Andes Mountains seen through one of Arequipa’s narrow streets.

Santa Catalina Monastery, built in 1580.

Vicunas (alpaca’s cousins) grazing just outside Arequipa.

A woman sits outside her home in the Los Tambos neighborhood.

Arequipa’s Central Square

Santa Catalina Monastery

A colorful street.

A local resident watching a parade in celebration of Arequipa’s many weekend festivals (Peruvians are good at finding reasons to celebrate!)

See more pictures of Arequipa here.

Fair Indigo ended up in Arequipa because it serves as the regional hub for Peru’s sustainable alpaca herding and knitting. The ancient Incas called alpaca the “fiber of the gods.” We call it the “Cashmere of the Andes.” An ethical option for those who want something really special, but are reluctant to indulge in cashmere because of the factory farm model it usually adheres to. We’ve offered our Baby Alpaca Scarf (no, not from baby alpacas!) since 2006 and it continues to be one of our top sellers year after year. A classic gift, made fairly. Workers like Manuela below enjoy a decent living and upward mobility thanks to our customers’ continued purchases of this scarf.

Employees enjoy a free health clinic on site.

Employees enjoying a lunch of delicious Peruvian cuisine.

Here’s Manuela finishing up the “fringe” on our alpaca scarf.

These alpacas are herded and sheared sustainably and with great care. The market for their fleece in North America grows little by little each year but is dwarfed by the mammoth cashmere industry. We’re grateful for our customers who are helping to turn the tide. You can see our growing collection of alpaca styles here.