It's not often that we stumble across alpaca products in the clothing stores we find in our local malls or big box stores. I can remember the first time I found 'alpaca' listed on a garment tag. It was 20 years ago, in a tiny specialty shop in Galway, Ireland. I didn't know what 'alpaca' was, but one thing I knew for sure was that my skin liked it a whole lot better than the wool sweaters that graced every shop window across the tiny country. (I bought lots of those sweaters, too!)
So, what puts alpaca clothing a cut above the rest? Ask 5 alpaca farmers and you'll get 5 different reasons. After raising these amazing animals for 10 years, I'm beginning to think I've got a pretty good idea. On my short list of reasons would be:
1. Ideal for people with sensitive skin. Often I hear people say that they react badly to wool and they wonder if they will react to alpaca. Skin sensitivity is a very personal thing. In general, sensitivity to wool is fairly common. This could be because sheep's wool tends to have more scales on each fibre, which contributes to the 'itch factor'. As well, sheep's wool contains lanolin. It's possible that individuals react to the lanolin, or react to the chemicals used to 'break' the lanolin. If lanolin remains in the wool, dust mites will be drawn to and held to the wool. Allergies to dust are common.
2. Alpaca rivals cashmere in softness. Fibres are measured in microns. A low micron count equals a softer fibre. A great piece of alpaca clothing will rely on the farmer (or manufacturer's) understanding of micron count. In any herd, there exists a wide range of alpaca fleece micron counts. The secret to a great alpaca garment lies in the right fit between the alpaca micron count and the type of garment produced. Garments that lie close to the skin should be manufactured from alpaca that has the lowest micron count.
3. Warm and Dry! Alpaca is many times warmer than wool. How many times warmer you ask? Well, that varies depending on who you ask. Overall, though, it is agreed that alpaca garments are several times warmer than the same garment made from wool or synthetics. So, alpaca clothing can be light-weight and still offer the same warmth as a wool or synthetic garment that is many times heavier. As well as being warm, alpaca wicks moisture away, keeping the wearer dry and comfortable. This is the reason why runners and golfers swear by socks that have some alpaca content. For these activities, the focus is on dryness not warmth.
So, the hypo-allergenic nature, softness, warmth and moisture-wicking abilities of alpaca make it the natural choice. Of course we haven't even talked about the environmental benefits of alpacas or the ability to use the harvest of a 'not for slaughter' alternative livestock. So many reasons...so little time.