These ethical alpaca brands don’t harm animals, but they do keep you warm – and stylish!
By Chere Di Boscio
A longtime staple of Andean cultures, the alpaca has been used for its wool for over 6,000 years. And no wonder: it’s 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 arrived centuries ago in Peru, they found a civilisation that was based on alpaca textiles. The Inca people made everything from clothing and bridges to roofs from super-sturdy alpaca fibres. They even recorded their wealth in patterns of cloth knots made on alpaca yarn!
However, blinded by gold, silver and precious stones, the Spanish failed to appreciate the true value of the fabric. Disgustingly, 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.
More alpaca tragedies
Sadly, the brutality towards alpacas didn’t stop there. With a stronger focus on ecological materials, many fashion brands around the world are creating a huge demand for alpaca wool. But with this demand comes increased cruelty to these nervous, docile animals.
In the Andes, they animals are usually raised in the open air, with perhaps a dozen alpacas grazing freely on grass. Growing demand for their wool has meant that they are now being herded into small, enclosed spaces where they’re treated like industrial animals raised for food. In short – appallingly.
Alpacas are also being exported live to other countries, such as China, where they are consistently maltreated and often die before they even reach their destination.
According to PETA, when they’re sheared for their wool, the process on these factory farms is brutal. They’re thrown to the ground, held down, and are so upset, they often faint or vomit. When the shears cut their skin, they are frequently not even treated, or if they are, it’s without anaesthetic.
The fashion market has also noted that adorable baby alpacas have incredibly soft skin, and now their fur is being used for everything from rugs and handbags to gloves and hats.
So, why buy alpaca?
Given how brutally alpacas are treated, you might be wondering: why should I buy from alpaca fashion brands?
There are a few arguments that could be made.
For example, as mentioned above, alpaca fibres are 100% biodegradable and eco friendly. Better than polyester threads for sure.
Also, if you buy from ethical alpaca brands, you are likely helping impoverished Andean people make a living. Selling alpaca wool helps them earn far more money than selling food would do.
Finally, not all alpaca wool is taken from the animal so brutally. Smallholders in the Andes shear the animals only once a year. It’s not fun for the alpaca, but it’s not terribly harmful, and it can be compared to getting a haircut.
How do you know if an alpaca brand is ethical?
There are a few ways to ensure you’re buying from ethical alpaca brands. For example:
- The wool does not come from China
- The website of the brand shows how the alpacas are being treated
- It’s not one of the larger Peruvian brands, such as Sol Alpaca or Kuna, who are not known for their ethical practices
- It’s not from any large international brand, which is likely sourcing the cheapest wool possible (likely from China)
- It’s a brand in our list below
Here, we’ve researched some of the best ethical alpaca brands around. This is what we found.
Ethical Alpaca Brands We Love
Since 1976, Peruvian Connection has been dedicated to the preservation and perpetuation of luxurious textile designs inspired by ancient traditions of the Andes. They offer the world’s most beautiful knitwear, artisan-made in soft alpaca or silky Peruvian Pima cotton.
When it comes to animal welfare, this is one of the few ethical alpaca brands that closely follows the protocol of “The Technical Norms for Shearing and Handling Alpaca Fiber Fleece” approved by the Peruvian Ministry of Production. This enforces the humane treatment of these gentle creatures.
Best for: Colourful knits with an ethnic touch
Price range: Medium
This South American company counts amongst the most ethical alpaca brands for several reasons. One, they only use natural dyes. Two, they only use natural, biodegradable fibres in their work. And finally, they give work to South American artisans to create their styles.
MAYDI employs collaborators to work from their own homes, allowing them to tend to other commitments in their day to day lives while they work. This approach seeks to develop a comfortable space for the mothers on their team. The brand is proud to promote the importance of women’s roles in the transmission of life and culture in society.
Best for: High-end, unique knitwear
Price range: High
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 butter-soft clothing for babies, and her range of toasty scarves, bed socks and hot water bottle covers ensure that chills will be kept at bay even during the coldest winter nights.
The designer assures us that the alpaca wool she uses for her products is ethically manufactured by leading producers of alpaca yarn in Peru. They obtain the fibre from shearing the alpaca in much the same way as sheep are sheared. No alpaca is harmed during the process.
Best for: Knit accessories that will look stylish for decades
Price range: Low
This is one of those ethical alpaca brands that was created by knitters, for knitters. In fact, knitting patterns and alpaca yarn are sold internationally on Purl’s site, so you can create your own winter wear. But if you don’t know how to knit, you can also order bespoke pieces from their site.
This tailor-made feature ensures the brand is as sustainable as can be. No items are made unless they’re specifically ordered, thus reducing waste through overstock.
Best for: Those who love to knit, or want a unique piece made just for them
Price range: Varies, depending on bespoke orders
5. Carolina K
Carolina K employs artisans from all around the world. The Argentinian designer is proud to give craftsmen in Peru, India and Mexico regular, fair-paid work. Through her brand, she’s also helping to preserve the artisanal traditions of the indigenous people she employs.
The luxury brand creates stunning sweaters, dresses and jackets, and is best known for its unique prints and patterns.
Best for: Designer knitwear with an artistic twist
Price range: High
Peruvian materials and Danish designers joined forces to create AYNI. Thanks to their unique, urban and somewhat intricate designs, this is one of our favourite ethical alpaca brands! It’s a conscious fashion and lifestyle label that unites high-end style with nature’s finest materials. Besides alpaca, AYNI also uses Pima cotton and wool, for example.
Encouraging consumers to wear their values, the brand assures us they support small workshops and groups of artisans located in both the cities and countryside of Peru.
Best for: Absolutely stunning, creatively designed knitwear
Price range: High
What do you get if you merge Fair Trade yarn sourced from Peru with hard working grandmothers in NYC? The answer is: WOOLN! This is another of those ethical alpaca brands that sources its yarn from rural families in Peru. WOOLN then gives the yarn to senior women in America so they can knit their luxurious pieces. Each item is labelled with the knitter’s name, and each granny has a bio on the WOOLN website.
We love that you can put a face to the hands that meticulously produced your winter accessories!
Best for: Simple winter accessories, handmade with love
Price range: Medium