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By Arwa Lodhi
A longtime staple of Andean cultures, the alpaca has been used for its wool for over 6,000 years. And no wonder: alpaca wool is not only soft and warm, it’s naturally anti-bacterial, stain resistant, easy to clean, doesn’t shrink or pill like cashmere or wool, wicks away moisture, is lightweight and resists wrinkling. Unlike wool, it never feels damp or holds a musty smell, and certainly never irritates skin or itches.
In fact, when the Spanish Conquistadores arrived centuries ago in Peru, they found a civilisation that was based on alpaca textiles–the Inca people made everything from clothing to bridges to roofs from super-sturdy alpaca fibres, and they even recorded their wealth in patterns of cloth knots.
However, blinded by gold, silver and precious stones, the Spanish failed to appreciate the true value of the fabric, and in an effort to conquer the alpaca-dependant Inca, they ordered the slaughter of the prized animals. By some accounts, up to 90% of the alpacas in South America were slaughtered and left to rot in the fields– a small number of these animals were saved, but herding and textile making techniques were greatly diminished.
Thankfully today, with a stronger focus on ecological materials and animal kindness, the alpaca has made a huge comeback with conscious fashion brands. Its eco-friendliness, durability, softness and thermal qualities have made it a particular favourite amongst eco-friendly designers, and the docile alpaca is an easy animal to shear, meaning even vegans can wear this wool with peace of mind.
Here, we’ve chosen five of the best baby alpaca brands around.
Shunning the fashion cycle, Sol Aplaca’s Peruvian made designs are meant to last for seasons – even generations. No wonder it’s a favourite brand with both luxury-loving South Americans and tourists to the region.
One of our favourite brands at Eluxe, Arlette Lee is fully dedicated to ecological sustainability and Fair Trade, and also offers unique designs in baby alpaca: the Ruana, a cape/coat hybrid, and the Snugg-Lee, a very practical accessory which can be worn as a cowl, scarf, head covering or shoulder warmer.
Creating simple scarves, cowls, blankets and children’s wear, Plum of London is the top brand for top Brits with plummy accents. The brand plans to introduce new styles for both men and women to be knitted by its English mills in 2014, but it has already been featured in the likes of British Vogue and Tatler.
Dedicated to Fair Trade principles, this Scottish designer is passionate about providing those who provide her with alpaca fibres with a sustainable livelihood.
Samantha Holmes designs offers buttersoft clothing for babies, and her range of toasty bed socks and hot water bottles ensure that chills will be kept at bay even during the coldest winter nights.
Although Samantha does use alpaca fur in some of her work, it is important to note that because alpacas are worth far more alive than dead, all her fur comes from animals that have died naturally, as opposed to being killed for their coats.
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This purely British brand uses British reared alpaca for its fibres, which are then spun and knitted by British craftsmen and women to make clothing that is perfect for–you guessed it–British weather! Thick cable knits, fine scarves and even alpaca yarn are all sold internationally on Purl’s site.