Consumers are demanding eco-friendlier fashion. And this material could well be the most sustainable fabric on the planet.
By Diane Small
Navigating the eco-fashion space can be a bit of a quagmire. We need to know so much. For example: if our clothing is ethically made; if it might shed microplastics, and if it’s biodegradable. Many of us wonder: what’s the most sustainable fabric we can buy?
There are a lot of contenders out there. Some would say organic cotton is best. But even though it’s non-GMO and biodegradable, it does consume a lot of water.
Others would argue for upcycled existing fabrics. Yet most of those do have that microplastic shedding problem.
Wool and cashmere are biodegradable, but sheep consume a lot of water and release a lot of greenhouse gases, while cashmere goats destroy plant life (and can even cause desertification) by ripping plants out from their roots when they eat them.
So, what could be the most sustainable fabric on Earth? I’d argue alpaca. Here’s why.
Why Alpaca May Be The Most Sustainable Fibre Ever
1. Alpaca is ethical
According to experts at Alpaca Collections, choosing alpaca fabrics means you’re choosing one of the world’s most sustainable fabric on the planet, and also supporting the Andean people and their cultural history.
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 for 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.
There were likely more than 10 million alpacas in Peru before the Spanish conquest, but only one in ten survived. The importation of foreign cattle also resulted in the displacement of alpacas to higher, colder and more arid areas. Currently, around 3.7 million alpacas inhabit the highlands of the Peruvian Andes. That’s around 80% of the worldwide alpaca population
For more than one million small alpaca farmers in South America today, alpacas are important to their livelihoods and cultural identity.
2. Alpacas maintain pastures
In contrast to cashmere goats and sheep, which have sharp hooves that damage pasture and soil, alpacas produce the most sustainable fabric thanks to their two toes with toenails on top. The soft pad on the bottom of each foot minimises their effect on pastures. This means grasslands are thus not disturbed by alpacas, allowing the soil and their habitat to remain intact. Their dung also fertilises the same grasses they eat.
It’s a win-win for the environment, and the animals! (and fashion!)
3. Alpacas don’t use land or water needed for food production
The natural habitat of alpacas is about 3,800 metres above sea level. At this altitude, the water supply is natural but scarce, and the land is generally not suitable for agriculture. This makes alpacas more environmentally friendly than all other fibre-producing livestock. They barely drink, getting most of their water from grass. And unlike goats, they don’t rip grass out by the root, which can contribute to serious environmental problems.
4. Alpaca saves energy
To choose alpaca means saving energy and water. According to Alpaca Collections, alpacas are highly efficient animals. That’s because they require much less food intake than most other fibre-producing livestock. Cashmere goats, for example, require at least twice the amount of dry grass that alpacas need to produce 1 kg of clean fibre. Yet another reason alpaca is the world’s most sustainable fabric.
5. Alpaca uses less toxic dye, if any
The natural colours of alpaca are undyed, So, any environmental issues associated with the dyeing process are minimised.
Alpaca Collections tells us the fibre from these animals comes in more than 22 natural colours. These are: hite, 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 don’t occur naturally. That means avoiding industrial dyes, and saving important amounts of water and energy.
Just look at the sweater hues at Alpaca Collections to see what’s possible, naturally!
6. Alpaca needs less energy & chemicals than other animal fibres
Another reason alpaca is the world’s most sustainable fabric is that compared to other animal fibres, alpaca fibre has a low grease content (2.8 – 3.9%). This means that much less energy and chemicals are required to treat the water used for its washing process. Moreover, alpaca fibre is more flame resistant than vegetable or synthetic fibres. Which means they don’t need to be treated with fire retardants, as some (very toxic) clothing is. And in case of fire, alpaca will never melt onto the skin like synthetic fibres do.
7. It’s super light and saves on emissions
The fineness of the alpaca fibre ranges from 18 microns to more than 35 microns. This makes it possible to produce everything from extremely fine and light products to thick alpaca blankets with superior thermal performance.
Other reasons we love alpaca
Not only is it the world’s most sustainable fabric, but the physical characteristics of alpaca fibre, such as its range of colours, structure and resistance, make it possible to create garments of an exceptionally fine quality, luster and drape, properties difficult to replicate using any other textile fibre. The strength, density and curvature of the alpaca fibre make alpaca garments very resistant to wear and tear.
You won’t sweat
Thanks to the hygroscopic characteristics of alpaca fibres, garments made of alpaca easily absorb moisture from the environment. In other words, that nasty “damp garment” feeling you get from wool sweaters when you overheat is minimised.
It’s soooo soft
Microscopically, animal fibres have the appearance of a palm tree with scales. While the height of the scales in wool is between 0.65 to 0.90 microns, the alpaca fibre hardly reaches 0.25 microns. What this means in real terms is that alpaca fibres are much softer and smoother than other animal fibres or cotton.
It keeps you warm – or cool
The physical characteristics of alpaca fibre sweaters and ponchos allow the manufacturing of products with superior performance in extreme climates, in both cold as well as warm weather.
In short, alpaca is the world’s most sustainable fabric for several reasons. It takes few natural resources, doesn’t harm the soil or integrity of grasslands, is harvested ethically, helps support small hold farmers, doesn’t hurt animals, doesn’t need chemical dyes and finishes, and is biodegradable and renewable.
Apart from all that, it’s soft, luxurious and beautiful.
What’s not to love?
Would you agree alpaca is one of the most sustainable fabrics on Earth? Let us know in the comments, below.
To see some of the most stunning alpaca garments around, please click here.
This was a paid partnership with Alpaca Collections.
To get 35% all their products, enter this code at checkout: ELUXEALPACA35