When discussing sustainable and natural fabrics, wool is often one of the first materials that come to mind.
But how does alpaca wool shape up from a sustainability point of view?
Alpaca wool has many benefits going for it. It’s produced on a small scale, the animals aren’t harmed and the materials are biodegradable and recyclable. However, there’s an environmental cost to producing alpaca wool, there are ethics questions and it’s expensive.
Keep reading to gain full knowledge as this blog will take a look at:
- Where alpaca wool comes from
- How it’s made
- If alpaca wool is ethical
- The disadvantages of this material
- Wrap up conclusions on is alpaca wool is sustainable
Sustainability benefits of wool
Wool is known for consuming less energy and natural resources than all synthetic textiles. Being completely natural, it’s also biodegradable.
And while there are definitely ethical concerns surrounding the well-being of wool-producing sheep, wool is still one of the most reliable if you’re looking for a durable and overall sustainable fabric. Take a look at this blog assessing how sustainable and ethical sheep’s wool is.
Alpaca wool is yet to gain the same popularity as the many different types of wool available on the market. These include merino wool and cashmere.
Let’s take a closer look at alpaca wool.
Where does alpaca wool come from?
As the name suggests, alpaca wool comes from alpacas. An alpaca is a mammal native to South America and known for its warm, thick fur. It gets cold up in the Andes mountains!
There are two main types of alpaca breed coming from just one species. (Think about pet dogs, lots of different breeds but all the same species).
These two alpaca breeds produce different fleece types:
Huacaya wool is the most similar to sheep’s wool in terms of look and feel. And when it comes to the process behind the harvesting, you can also expect alpaca wool to be quite similar to classic sheep’s wool.
Alpacas are shorn once a year during the spring months. Once clipped, their fleece is thoroughly cleaned and dried before the carding stage.
This step involves using air to blow through each fibre and enhance the quality of the fleece, creating a lighter, softer yarn.
After an optional dyeing stage, the yarn is finally spun by hand and later rewashed to remove any impurity. It can then be either knitted or crocheted depending on the final product.
Are alpacas killed for their wool?
No, alpacas are not killed for their wool.
One of the biggest issues is how the animals are treated. In the sheep wool industry, the animals are not always treated the way the should.
So, what about the ethics and animal welfare practices behind alpaca wool production.
Alpaca wool is largely considered cruelty-free.
The animals are shorn gently and only during the warmer months. This leaves their fur untouched over the winter months when they need it the most.
According to traditional producers in Peru, the world’s biggest exporter of alpaca wool, the fleece is harvested using scissors and cut quite close to the skin, but without hurting the animals.
Some manufacturers even claim that their wool is exclusively sourced from wild alpacas! They say these are captured, carefully shorn and then released again, as opposed to using domesticated, farmed animals.
However, the industry is not free from controversy.
According to a recent PETA investigation on the biggest alpaca wool farm in Peru, shearing still happens under inhumane conditions. Issues include rough handling and painful cuts to the skin.
Is alpaca wool more ethical than other wool types?
Alpaca wool is often considered more ethical than other animal materials like sheep’s wool or leather (although there are plant based leather versions now). This is because the majority of alpaca operations are conducted on a much smaller scale.
But as insider documents like the PETA expose show, the truth behind the marketing is not completely black and white.
Alpaca wool production has long been an integral part of Peru and Bolivia’s culture. Artisans from most independent wool manufacturers are paid a fair living wage. I certainly paid fair money when I bought a pair of alpaca wool socks in Peru!
Even though there are concerns regarding the handling and shearing of alpacas on bigger farms, it’s still widely believed that the animals are not harmed or in distress during the process.
The PETA investigation is, in fact, the only document we have so far showing signs of animal abuse and unethical treatment.
But does this also mean that alpaca wool is sustainable?
What are the disadvantages of alpaca wool?
You can argue that alpaca wool is more ethical than fabrics like Merino wool, angora and cashmere. However, alpaca wool does come with its fair share of drawbacks.
First, there’s the price issue. Alpaca wool is one of the most expensive materials on the planet! This is because it’s only harvested once a year and shorn from an exotic, rarer species.
On the flipside, alpaca wool is 100% hypoallergenic, more durable than other types of wool, and not as ‘prickly’ on the skin as Merino wool.
But what about sustainability? Is alpaca wool sustainable, or at least more sustainable than sheep’s wool?
Let’s start with the bad news first.
Higg Materials Sustainability Index
The Higg Materials Sustainability Index ranks materials based on how they’re made, as opposed to whether they contribute to plastic pollution, whether they’re renewable or recyclable or whether they are long-lasting.
Still, we can’t ignore that alpaca wool production is not as energy-efficient as sheep’s wool, as it yields much smaller yarns.
But at the same time, this type of wool can be considered eco-friendly when it comes to disposal and durability.
Untreated alpaca wool is fully biodegradable, as it starts degrading in about a year. It’s also reusable, recyclable and plastic-free.
However, the vast majority of alpaca wool products are industrially dyed, which impacts the material’s biodegradability and environmental impact. This of course depends on the chemicals used.
Final thoughts on if alpaca wool is eco-friendly?
First things first, using alpaca wool is a better option than choosing synthetic plastic-based garments, like acrylic, or even conventional cotton. However’s there’s currently not enough evidence backing up alpaca fleece as a truly sustainable alternative.
The best course of action for ensuring that your alpaca wool is sustainable will be to choose untreated wool and pick products from farms with a proven track record of ethical animal treatment.
You can also opt for buying products made with recycled alpaca wool and other eco-friendly textiles to ease its environmental impact even more. If possible, buy wool harvested from wild alpacas for a more ethical choice.
It will come at a price, but the durability and quality of the material will ensure you’ll get your money’s worth!
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