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We all love alpaca sweaters because they are gorgeous, durable and soft, but alpaca clothing is beautiful in another way, too. Bolivian and Peruvian clothing made of alpaca are one of the most eco-friendly choices you can make. As the environmental costs of “fast fashion” begin coming into focus, we wanted to help you understand why buying an alpaca cardigan or ruana is a good choice for the planet.
What Is “Fast Fashion?”
“Fast fashion” refers to cheaply-made clothing that is meant to last one season, or even part of one season. Not long ago, there were two fashion seasons: Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Now, there are not only four distinct seasons, but also many sub-markets, like “cruise” or “resort,” or “pre-Fall.” In many stores, new styles arrive weekly. Customers are urged to hold on to a whirling carrousel of trends and to constantly discard outdated clothing. Americans now throw away an average of 75 pounds of textiles per year. That is a 750% increase since 1960, and more than ten times the population increase during that period. Not only is that a waste of the energy, materials and water that went into creating this disposable clothing, but since many of those textiles are made of petroleum products, they may take centuries to break down and disappear. Artificial fibers release microplastics into our waterways whenever you wash them. Yuk!
Alpaca Husbandry is a Partnership with the Land
Alpacas have been raised in the altiplano for millennia. They roam freely, they do not overgraze and they are in complete harmony with their environment. Furthermore, they are overwhelmingly owned by small family farmers, and their cultivation enables these rural dwellers to remain on their land as they have since pre-Columbian times.
Alpaca Wool is Low Impact
Alpaca fiber comes naturally in 46 distinct earth tones, ranging from black to white, with many shades of gray, brown and camel in between. Raw fiber is sorted at the warehouse, and all these earth tones are then cleaned and spun without harmful dyes. This means that all the natural tones in your alpaca cardigan or alpaca hat have the absolute minimal impact on the environment.
The yarn companies themselves are taking measures. The huge Inca Tops factory in Arequipa uses 1200 solar panels for heating water used for processing fiber and captures the solid waste generated to use as fertilizer. The other big producer, Michell, has recently introduced a line of non-toxic eco-yarns that will be certified organic from start to finish. We will be incorporating these colors into our alpaca ponchos, sweaters and accessories in coming years as much as possible.
Alpaca Clothing is Made To Last
Whether it’s an alpaca hat, alpaca fingerless gloves, a ruana wrap or an alpaca sweater coat, all types of sweaters of this material are made to endure. Not only is the long alpaca fiber incredibly pill- and stretch-resistant, but the rigorous quality control that extends from the knitter to the embroiderer insures that your purchase will be looking as beautiful after five years as the day that you bought it. When your favorite alpaca sweater is still reeling in the compliments, you don’t need to buy another to replace it. We purposely avoid most of the synthetic blends that lower alpaca yarn’s cost at the expense of durability and sustainability. (We occasionally use a boucle yarn with a very small percentage of polyamide)
Invisible World Products Stay in Style
What’s the point of getting an alpaca sweater with a twenty year life span if it’s going to look passé next winter? At Invisible World, we purposely avoid the trendy and the temporary. We choose styles that stand outside the latest fashion trend. That ruana you buy today is not going to look outdated years from now, let alone next winter. We want you wearing and enjoying your Bolivian or Peruvian clothing for many years, and getting compliments on it all the while.
To sum it up, what we sell is slow fashion: high quality garments that are easy on the earth and will give you many years of enjoyment. Yes, an alpaca sweater is an investment, but long after you’ve forgotten the price, you’ll still be happily taking that beautiful old friend out of the closet to brighten your day.
I’m glad you raised that concern. My agent in Peru recently let her clients know that PETA had made some sort of case. I’m going to use her words because I think she summarizes it very succinctly:
“The one not very positive event recently is the PETA campaign against the use of alpaca fiber due to the mistreatment of alpacas filmed by them on the Malkini farm which is run by Michell. What they didn’t say in their diatribe against alpacas is that this is not how the majority of alpacas are sheared as the farm is only for genetic studies and 95% of the fiber comes from small breeders who love and depend on their animals and who shear them themselves without stressing them out because the animals trust them totally. There are 85,000 families in the altiplano who depend entirely on alpacas for their livelihood and are endangered by this campaign.
However, even this has its silver lining as all the companies involved in sales of alpaca products have now got to gather and are meeting on a weekly basis together with representatives of the government and Prom Peru to put together ways of counteracting the PETA video. There have been a lot of suggestions ranging from filming the guilty parties tied to a table and being spat at by alpacas ( a personal favorite) to new campaigns to promote alpaca yarn and the implementation of rules for humane shearing and a regulatory committee to oversee this run by the government so PETA has actually helped to wake everyone up to the fact that they need to ensure that there are no possible abuses in the shearing, and that we need to promote this extraordinary fiber and these animals who far from damaging the environment actually help keep the Andes irrigated."
I don’t know anything about this issue other than the above, but from my own experience in the Andes, alpacas are viewed with affection and respect by their owners: part domestic animal, part pet. I am confident that any abuses will be addressed, both with and without the cameras rolling. I still feel very strongly that alpaca is a material that greatly benefits the environment and the traditional social structures of Peru and Bolivia.
Thanks for the input. I hope this clarifies things.
For years, I have bought alpaca sweaters and knitting yarn, UNTIL I saw videos of how the alpacas are really abused while being shorn. What humane animal practices do your alpaca farmers use with their animals? I would like to be able to again buy beautiful, light, and warm sweaters and knitting yarn without any guilt!