Is Alpaca the Most Expensive Fabric? (Compared to Vicuña, Qiviut, Cashmere, Bison Down, Yak, Angora)
If you are looking into alpaca woolen items, you might be surprised by the price tag they can have. Depending on the type of alpaca (baby alpaca vs. regular alpaca) the prices can vary, but generally speaking, all alpaca woolen garments are quite expensive. Why is that? And is alpaca wool the most expensive of them all?
Alpaca wool is more expensive than cotton, llama and polyester. It is comparable in price to hemp, silk, merino, corriedale and lleyn. It is not as expensive as cashmere, bison down, yak, angora, and mohair. Vicuña and qiviut are the most expensive specialty fibers.
A little note before you start reading: these prices were not readily available on the Internet. I had to dig DEEP before I could find some of the raw or finished fibers. Some of them I found on platforms such as Amazon and local yarn stores. And then when I found them, the prices were in foreign currencies (like the Australian dollar, Euro, Indian Rupee or Chinese Yen!) and the weight was always different.
I had to do a few conversions to get to the numbers I have listed here below. Despite my best effort to make this article as accurate as possible, it is A) possible that I have made a mistake along the road, and B) that you will find other prices based on your location! So, please, take the information below as a guideline, not as set-in-stone prices!
Comparing Different Fiber Types
Comparing different fiber types is like comparing apples and oranges, but then, alpacas and angoras. There are many differences between the different fibers, which I will discuss in more detail per comparison.
Raw Fiber Prices and Inconsistencies
The raw fiber is generally the fiber after shearing or combing. You might find some inconsistencies in prices as some fibers will be washed and/or combed, while other fibers come straight from the animal, with all grass and dirt still on it. Since there are one or two processes involved to clean raw fiber, the prices will vary depending on the stage it is offered in.
Generally, raw fiber refers to the unprocessed fiber, which can either be dirty or just unspun.
The yield indicates how much of the fiber is actually usable and clean (to turn into yarn). An animal might produce a lot of wool, but if it is dirty, greasy or mixed with coarse coat hairs, only a small part of it can be used for further production.
If the raw fiber price is really low compared to an extremely high finished fiber, it is probably because there is little yield. On the other hand, if prices are more aligned, it is likely that the shorn or combed yarn has a high yield.
The prices for finished fibers that I found are often based on small balls of yarn, like 25, 50, or 100 grams. If you were to buy wool per kilo, you will obviously find better prices, because the wool producer is more likely to give you a better price for a larger amount of wool.
If you are curious about the more accurate prices for smaller amounts of wool, check out the sources that are linked underneath each table. They will bring you to the source of each amount.
It is important to take into account where the wool comes from. Of course, if you live in the States and you have an alpaca producer around the corner, you will find much better prices than if you’re looking for yak wool from the Tibetan plateau. Some vendors may or may not have shipping costs already included in their sales prices.
Similarly, farmers in Peru have a lower income than farmers in Australia because the cost of living is obviously a lot higher in the latter. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as long as minimum prices and agreements are honoured, to assure basic income. It does cause prices to fluctuate from place to place.
One of the benefits of buying these specialty fibers as yarn is that they are often organic and locally produced. The gigantic mohair farmers that work(ed) with fast fashion chains like H&M and Zara are not interested in selling 50gram balls of yarn to individual buyers. The prices are therefore automatically much higher than a knitted garment can cost.
Take the prices of the finished fiber as a guideline for what you can expect to pay for organic, locally made, animal-friendly, high quality yarn.
The last reason for any price differences that you may encounter yourself is between dyed and undyed wool. While some fibers might be easy to dye, others may not. Providing already dyed yarn can make things more expensive than undyed yarn.
As you will see, luxury fibers are expensive. Much more expensive than synthetic fibers, or plant based fibers.
Intrigued? Check out this other article I wrote:
Baby Alpaca is More Expensive Than Regular Alpaca
To begin with, baby alpaca wool is much more expensive than regular alpaca. This has to do with the quality and availability of both fibers.
Baby alpaca is the softest part of the alpaca. It is often the first shearing of an alpaca when it is about 1 year old. The term baby doesn’t necessarily refer to the age of the alpaca, but given the fact that the fiber softness decreases as the animal grows older, it is much more likely that the softest fleece of an alpaca comes from the younger ones.
This also indicated another reason for the difference in price: baby alpacas are only limited available, because there are more “older” alpacas than really young and soft ones. Alpaca of a higher fiber diameter (which means it is a little less soft) are more readily available.
Vicuña Is More Expensive Than Alpaca Wool (and Anything Else!)
The most expensive fiber on this planet is by far vicuña. The vicuña is far relative to the alpaca and provides the most luxurious fiber you will ever encounter.
The reason for vicuña wool being so expensive is because it is a super protected animal. While the animal was treated like a god by the Incas back in the days, only a few decades ago it was close to being extinct.
Conservation and reinstatement programs have helped the vicuña make a solid comeback. There are now about 350,000 vicuñas in South America.
Vicuña wool is not only expensive because the animals are so well protected, but also because they can only be shorn once every 3 years. They are also caught from the wild when they are shorn.
Check out this awesome mini-documentary from the BBC about how the shearing process goes:
Vicuña is an amazing luxury fiber: it is super soft (12.5 microns), very warm, water-repellent and wind-resistant. In Inca times, only the royalty was allowed to wear vicuña. You could consider alpaca wool the affordable version of vicuña: for the people :)
You can imagine that if the fiber prices are so high, the prices of vicuña woolen products must be even higher! One of the most renowned producers of vicuña woolen products is Loro Piana, an Italian designer.
Check out the vicuña assortiment on Loro Piana’s website!
Qiviut Is MUCH More Expensive Than Alpaca Wool
“Only” half the price of vicuña and second on the list of most expensive yarn is qiviut. Qiviut is the soft underdown of the musk ox. The musk ox is native to the arctic tundras of Alaska, and can currently be found in Greenland and Scandivia, too.
Because of the cold environment musk oxen live in, they need to be well adapted to survive the freezing temperatures throughout an entire winter. The musk oxen don’t migrate like other animals do, but they developed this super soft and warm underdown instead.
Qiviut is obtained by hand combing the animals in spring to collect the wool. According to Musk Ox Farm, one adult musk ox sheds about 4.5 pounds of down (about 2 kg). The wool is washed, sorted and carded before it is spun into yarn.
Qiviut is a luxury fiber for a reason! It is incredibly soft and warm, according to Mr. Google, it is even said to be 8 times warmer than sheep’s wool! The average micron count for bison wool is 12-14 microns, only slightly softer than vicuña.
It is als a super durable fiber and garments made with qiviut down will last many years!
Compared to alpaca wool, qiviut is just much more luxurious and rare! It is much softer and much warmer. While they are both durable and versatile fibers that can be used for warm winter clothing, qiviut requires more manual labour and has a lower yield, which makes it more exclusive.
Just like the vicuña, the musk ox once was close to going extinct. Today, there are only between 80,000 and 120,000 musk oxen (according to Wikipedia), much less than the alpaca population (which is about 4 million).
Bison Down Is More Expensive Than Alpaca Wool
Bison down is the soft underdown of the American bison. There are many different types of bison around the United States these days, although the total population is only close to 500,000. Today, bisons are mostly raised for meat production and consumption.
Bison down is sometimes a by-product of the industry, although the use of bison down for insulation goes way back to the native Cree people.
Fun fact! The American bison was never domesticated, because it was too wild!
While bisons can be found in different parts of the United States, they generally live on grasslands, sometimes on slightly mountainous areas, and other times in river valleys. They are well prepared for cold environments, and they have the down to keep their bodies warm in winter, while their outer coat protects them from rain and wind.
In spring, when the bisons happily live in slightly warmer and more food abundant areas after having lived through a harsh winter, they shed their furry underdown. Traditionally, these plucks of shedded hair were picked up and used for insulation. Today it is also used to make yarn and knit woolen products.
The Cree people called bison down omestanpewayanah literally “bison hair rubbed off and fluffed up in bushes”. I don’t think there is a better way to describe it :)
Bison down is very warm, soft and light. Just like most types of wool, it must be washed carefully and it is prone to felting. Generally below 30 microns, it is pretty soft and since it has no lanolin it is hypoallergenic. One downside is that it doesn’t dye well, so it is often offered in its natural grey-brownish color.
While you will be able to find pure bison down, it is often blended with other fibers to enhance its characteristic features.
While bison down is very similar to alpaca wool in terms of its qualities, it is much more labor intensive to be obtained. First of all, the down is only plucked from bushes, so it makes it very rare and time consuming. After the fiber is gathered, it is hand sorted. Then, like any other fiber, it is washed, carded and turned into yarn (or felt).
Angora Is More Expensive Than Alpaca Wool Alpaca Wool
Angora wool is the fiber from the angora rabbit: the frizzy, fuzzy, fluffy (gigantic) rabbit that provides this equally frizzy, fuzzy, fluffy fiber. Angora wool is known for its softness and a “halo-effect” (because of all the fluff).
While angora wool has received a lot of negative media attention over time, due to animal cruelty, many fast fashion chains have stopped using angora for their products. Hopefully, this will bring a halt to mass producers who don’t treat their animals well, and make room for local, animal-loving, small-scale producers.
Angora wool is (ethically) obtained by shearing, combing or plucking the animal. Not by PULLING, which is what the stupid large-scale farmers do, WHICH IS BAD! Angora rabbits need to be groomed naturally every three months, not doing so is harmful for the animal as their fleece will start to mat and can cause irritation and even infections!
Check out this video: this awesome lady called her rabbit TIGER! Isn’t that empowering?!
According to Practical Self Reliance, angoras yield 12-16 ounces of wool (0.34 to 0.45) and up to 1 pound of fiber (0.45 kg). This means that the yield is super clean, and not much of it will be after combing or during the spinning process. The major reason for this is the fact that angoras don’t have many guard hairs, so basically all the hair that comes off the rabbit rabbit will be usable.
In terms of qualities, angora wool is a luxury fiber and therefore has many qualities. It is super, super soft: generally between 12-16 microns, according to Kromski North America. Angora wool is also known to be very warm and thermoregulating (which means it wears super comfortably!).
One downside of angora wool is that it may not be easy to work with (because of its extreme softness and luster it lacks the scales many wool fibers have!), making it less elastic. This can be solved by blending angora with other wool fibers, though.
Compared to alpaca fiber, angora is definitely softer and fluffier. Alpaca wool is also known to be shiny and have somewhat of a halo effect, but it is not even close compared to angora wool. The process is very labour intensive if animal-welfare is applied correctly.
Yak Wool Is More Expensive Than Alpaca Wool
Yak wool comes from an animal called a yak, a large wild ox, that lives mostly throughout the Himalaya and the Tibetan Plateau, aka, in very high altitudes! Yaks are strong animals that are often used as pack animals, or for their meat and hide.
Yaks have shaggy hair with a thick outer coat, and a soft, wooly undercoat. The soft down underwool is used to make yak wool. The animals are combed, and the combed fibers are spun into yarn (after cleaning!). For knitters, yak wool is easy to work with. For wearers, yak wool is light, soft and durable.
Yak wool is strong and doesn’t felt easy. It won’t start pilling when you wear it and a garment will not start to smell because it is odour-resistant and antibacterial.
Most of the yaks live on the Tibetan Plateau, an area that is highly affected by climate change. Unfortunately, the temperature of the Tibetan Plateau is rising twice as fast and the impacts of climate change are much more noticeable in this area, and the natural habitat of the yak is slowly disappearing.
Yaks really don’t like living in warm environments, so they are much more dependent on the cold temperatures in the high mountains than other animals.
According to the Wildlife Conservatory, there are between 15,000 and 20,000 yaks left and it is therefore important that the animal is protected from going extinct. Just like all the other expensive luxury fibers, one of the reasons is simply because of the availability.
Yak wool is combed once a year, when the yak sheds its warm winter fur in spring. As far as I know, it is always collected manually, by combing, after which it is cleaned and spun into yarn. The softest part of the yarn is the belly.
Yak wool is very similar to alpaca in quality, except for its softness: yak wool is generally softer, about 18-20 microns (compared to alpaca which is 18-26 microns). Yak wool is generally much more expensive, mostly because of its exclusivity.
Mohair Is More Expensive Than Alpaca Wool
Mohair is the hair that comes from the angora goat (not the same as an angora rabbit!). Just like angora wool, though, the mohair industry has been under fire because of large-scale mass production in South Africa (the biggest producer of mohair).
Mohair is mostly hair (just like alpaca!) and it is therefore praised for its luster, sheen and softness. The fiber thickness normally is around 25 microns, although coarser fibers are also available.
According to Wikipedia, angora goats produce quite some fiber: 11-17 pounds (5-8 kg), per year, per goat. The animals are shorn twice, although it is important to make sure the animal has sufficient shelter from the cold if it is shorn in fall.
When processing mohair from raw fiber to finished fiber, you should expect a 15% shrinkage (compared to 45-53% for sheep). Mohair does have some natural oils that will need to be removed before it can be processed into a finished fiber. This process adds value to the finished fiber, just like the sorting process (removing kemp fibers) does.
Because of the special fiber texture of mohair, it is harder to spin mohair than most types of fibers.
Compared to alpaca, the main difference between the two fibers is the lack of crimp in mohair. While alpaca does not have a lot of crimp in the wool-fiber world, more crimp is desired for production purposes. When a fiber has more (or better) crimp, it has lower processing losses. Crimp basically helps the loose hairs to interlock better and become more resilient.
Mohair does not contain lanolin, so it is hypoallergenic. It does lack the wind-resistant and water-repellent qualities that alpaca wool has. Nevertheless, mohair is warm and breathable and known for its insulating properties. On top of that, it is as durable and luxurious as you can expect a luxury fiber to be :)
Cashmere Is More Expensive Than Alpaca Wool
Cashmere is a type of wool that comes from the cashmere goats that originally come from the Indian region Kashmere. Currently, Mongolia and China are the main producers of cashmere.
Cashmere has been known as one of the more luxurious fibers available to a great public. With cashmere farms becoming increasingly popular in China, the price of cashmere dropped significantly the past few decades.
With people becoming more conscious about the sources of their clothing, and fast fashion chains being repeatedly attacked for using unethical practices, the cashmere industry is making a comeback with more organic, sustainable and local initiatives in other parts of the world.
The cashmere fiber is shiny and soft, generally between 15 and 19 microns. There is no such thing as a purebred cashmere goat, as many different types of goat can be qualified as cashmere. In order for fibers to be considered cashmere, though, the fiber has to pass strict standards.
One of those processes is the sorting of the fiber: to separate the guard hairs from the undercoat. Cashmere goats don’t yield much wool. According to the Cashmere Goat Association, an average goat yields about 4 ounces (0.11 kg) per year!
So, in order to produce large amounts of cashmere, many goats are needed and this makes farming cashmere goats unsustainable (and often NOT environmentally or animal friendly).
Cashmere is similar to alpaca wool, and alpaca wool seems to take over cashmere’s position as a luxury fiber. Both cashmere and alpaca are super warm and soft, durable and comfortable, however, cashmere is generally softer than alpaca, hence the difference in price.
Hemp Is Similarly Priced As Alpaca Wool
While hemp is not your standard luxury fiber, I have a sneaking suspicion that it might be one of the most potential fibers for our future (which is actually ironic, given that hemp was used already 50,000 years ago, according to Wikipedia!). Sustainable, durable, and vegan, this fiber is accessible for everyone!
Hemp is a fiber made from the bast of the hemp plant, just like linen and jute, and it is therefore a bast fiber. Hemp fibers can be really long and strong (the longer, the stronger), making them more durable than most other fibers. It is not as soft as cotton, so it will actually need to be blended with other, softer, fibers to make it comfortable to wear.
Hemp is breathable and it doesn’t pill.
There are also many benefits of the plant over cotton or flax, or animal fibers, mostly in favor of the environment:
Hemp grows fast
Hemp is naturally resistant to pests (as a plant)
Hemp grows dently on a small piece of land
Separating the fiber from the bast can be done naturally
Nevertheless, even hemp is not perfect: like I said, the fiber is not very soft and needs to be blended with softer fibers; it lack elasticity, making it prone to wrinkling; and despite being resistant to pests, it is not resistant to bacteria as the fabric can easily be attacked by fungi and bacteria. Chemicals (possibly organic) are needed to make hemp a less vulnerable fabric.
Read more about hemp in an awesome article written by The Sustainable Fashion Collective: Turning Hemp into Fabric
Compared to alpaca wool, hemp fibers are more or less in the same price range, however alpaca wool is much softer. In terms of durability, they are both winners to me. Alpaca wool is generally warmer than hemp and doesn’t need ironing or much washing when it is worn, so that would be in favor of the former.
You could even say the processes are similar: both hemp and alpaca wool leave a very small footprint on our planet when they are grown. The production processes can be done manually and organically for both, although some chemical processes might occur to fasten up the process. The finished fiber is versatile.
Silk Is Similarly Priced As Alpaca Wool
Silk is the fabric that is made from the cocoon of the silkworm. This luxury fiber is mostly used for fancy (or sexy) items like dresses, nightgowns, lingerie, evening wear and blouses. Silk is a popular fabric for its super soft and shiny, lustrous fiber.
Due to centuries of cultivation, the silk worms are now dependent on humans: they no longer know how to fly and need to be protected from other insects. Silk producers are involved in the entire process: from feeding the worms, to helping the moths find mating partners.
Silk is obtained by harvesting silkworm cocoons. The cocoons are made by the worms in 48 hours, made of a single strand of silk. When the silk moths appear from the cocoon, they leave a hole in the cocoon, making it useless for silk production (because it breaks the one strand of silk). To prevent this, the cocoon is put into hot water to kill the silkworm prematurely.
There are two options for spinning the silk: either manually, using an old spinning device, or by more modern machinery (introduced recently).
Watch this video if you want to find out more about how the process happens:
Just like many other luxury fibers, silk has been criticized by animal rights organizations, because of boiling the silk cocoon with the pupa still inside it (and thus killing it).
As a response, non-violent silk has emerged, also known as Ahimsa Silk or peace silk. Non-violent silk doesn’t necessarily refer to the type of silk that is used, but to the production methods. Other examples of non-violent silk are tussah or Tasar silk. The main difference is to wait until the moth emerges from the cocoon until the silk is processed.
Silk is expensive because, according to Biddle Sawyer Silk, it takes about 2,500 silkworms to produce 1 pound (0.45 kg) of silk.
Most production of silk takes place in India, where wages are low to reduce cost. Back in the day, silk used to be dyed naturally, but with large scale production, these practises are disappearing. Unfortunately, this also means that silk needs to be bleached before it can be dyed.
Compared to alpaca wool, there are some similarities: both fibers are produced in countries where production is cheap. In these countries, traditional methods are very common and will still be applied today. However, modernization is also happening to make the production process faster (and therefore cheaper).
Non-violent silk takes much more time to produce, plus the yield decreases significantly: according to Wikipedia about 1/6! It is therefore much, much more expensive!
Merino Is Similarly Priced As Alpaca Wool
Merino wool is one of the softest types of wool that you will find, for a reasonable price. Given its strength and elasticity, warmth and breathability, merino wool is often used for hiking or other outdoor activities gear.
Merino comes from the merino sheep, a breed that is known for its fuzzy and frizzy hair. Merinos are some of the most popular sheeps that are currently bred, many of them in Australia. The production of merino wool is similar to that of other types of wool: the sheep are shorn, the wool is sorted, washed, carded and spun.
With an increased popularity and an elevated demand, prices dropped and more animals were farmed, with all logical consequences: crowded sheep on too small patches of land, with mulesing, docking and careless shearing, as there was no money available for veterinary care and support and shearers get paid by volume - not by the hour.
The merino industry is no exception of how badly an increasing demand can influence any industry. Just like any other sheep industry, animal rights activists have repeatedly brought the terrible practises of animal maltreatment to light.
Now there is an increasing number of organic merino farms that treat their animals, their employees and the land they work with humanely. And of course, good practises require a higher budget and price tag.
Merinos can be shorn year-round, and depending on the breed, they produce between 3 to 18 kilos a year. This is greasy wool though, and once the grease and dirt is washed off, less will be left. Merinos tend to yield about 60-75% clean wool, which is less compared to alpaca (87-95%).
Merinos can be shorn up to twice a year, which is more often than alpaca, but breeders will need to plan ahead to make sure the animals have enough time to grow back their fur for winter. On the other hand, shearing biannually helps get cleaner fleeces.
Both fibers have very similar characteristics, and both compete for high-quality outdoor equipment/gear. While merino wool is generally softer and warmer than alpaca, alpaca is more water-repellent, durable and hypoallergenic.
Corriedale Is Similarly Priced As Alpaca Wool
To show that alpaca wool and sheep wool are comparable in price and quality, I’ve added two types of “normal” sheep wool to this comparison: Corriedale and Lleyn (next one below).
Corriedale is your most standard sheep when you think about wool (for me at least): fluffy, white and cute! It is a breed from New Zealand, and indeed, it is a wonderful all-purpose wool that is loved by many people. Nowadays, Corriedales are bred all over the world: but mostly in New Zealand, Australia, USA, Brazil, Uruguay and Patagonia (according to Wikipedia).
I couldn’t find any specific numbers about the Corriedale population, except that it is probably the second most popular breed after merino, and that Corriedales make up about 4% of the Australian sheep population, according to the Oklahoma State University.
Aside from being your “standard sheep”, you could also think of Corriedales as the “perfect sheep”. They are easy to breed, docile, fertile and they have a thick, fast growing, high yielding fleece.
While alpaca wool sounds much more exotic than sheep wool, it is still more or less in the same price range. Funnily enough, there are more similarities, although most alpaca would be a bit more superior than Corriedale.
Corriedales yield “only” about 50-60% of their fleece after washing, but the staple length is good: between 3.5 and 6 inch (8.9-15.2 cm). They can be shorn once or twice a year.
Corriedale, just like alpaca, adapt well to their environment, so their wool reflects this: corriedale is warm, water-repellent and flame-retardant. It does contain lanolin and has more crimp than alpaca.
Lleyn Is Similarly Priced As Alpaca Wool
Similarly, lleyn felt like a good example of “normal” sheep wool to include in this comparison.
Lleyn is a very similar sheep to Corriedales, your standard white, grazing, sweet, cute, fluffy sheep. One of the main differences between them, though, is that Lleyn were only bred on the Lleyn peninsula until recently. The last ten years it became more popular and can now be found in more parts of the UK.
According to the Mad Farmer (hihi), lleyn sheep produce a medium fleece, with a micron range of 31 to 34. The staple length is good and long (between 6 and 12 cm) and the sheep yield about 2.5-3.5 kg of fleece (88-123 ounces).
I thought it would be interesting to compare alpaca wool with “normal” sheep wool like Lleyn and Corriedale, to see how much more “exotic” alpaca wool is. However, Lleyn seems to be more unique than Corriedale, because it comes from a more isolated region, just like alpaca wool.
However, I guess a white sheep will always be a white sheep, because the price is not super high compared to either Corriedale or alpaca. This might partially be because Lleyn is less soft than alpaca or Corriedale, and because it is above 30 microns, it will most likely be itchy, too.
While this is fine for garments like sweaters, that you won’t wear directly onto your skin, but if you’re looking for a luxury fiber, it is not your best bet. So while Lleyn is a good, solid, sheep that produces a strong, versatile wool, it is not a go-to luxury fiber.
Llama Is Cheaper Than Alpaca Wool
Llamas are animals that belong to the same family as alpacas. They are generally a little bigger, and (sorry, llamas!) they don’t have as much of the cute-face as alpaca do. I wonder if the spitting has anything to do with it…?
Llama wool is a relatively unknown wool fiber, but just like alpaca, it has been around for centuries! While it may not be as soft as alpaca, llama wool has similar qualities and is just as warm!
Llamas have two different coats: a coarse, protective, outer coat and soft underdown. The part of the llama that is used for wool, is the underdown. According to Lost Creek Llamas, there are many benefits to the llama fiber: it is warm, silky, light and thin. Just like alpaca, it lacks lanolin, thus making the production process a little easier on the washing, and the silky fiber gives any garment good drape.
It might be hard to differentiate between a llama and an alpaca when you’re not familiar with them, but you will easily recognise the differences between an alpaca woolen garment and a llama woolen garment.
Llamas have good yield as well, which means that cost can be reduced compared to other fibers. According to Lost Creek Llamas, llamas yield about 2-3 pounds of fiber, and yield 70-85% clean wool. Both llamas and alpacas are particularly clean, although it is important for llamas to be combed regularly to maintain their fleece free of debris.
Similarly, both animals are shorn once a year.
While both are seen as high quality, luxury fibers, llama wool is not as soft as alpaca wool. Generally beyond 30 microns, it is honestly quite itchy. It does have a beautiful sheen and luster, just like alpaca, and llama also has a nice springy fiber that is strong, warm, water-repellent and wind-resistant.
The fact that it just isn’t as soft as alpaca wool means that it is less expensive. The reason why llama is generally less soft, is because it is very hard to comb out all the coarse hairs. Another downside of llama compared to alpaca, is that llama has no crimp. This makes it A) hard to spin, and B) means that the yarn is not very resilient.
Cotton Is Cheaper Than Alpaca Wool
Cotton is a plant based fiber, just like hemp, that is in this list because it is one of the most used fibers in the world. According to Cotton.org, over 70% of all garments are made with cotton (partially or entirely).
Cotton comes from the cotton plant and it looks like a fluffy little ball of fluff. I love cotton plants! I think they’re very pretty! To produce cotton, the fluff is plucked out of the seed, and then turned into thinly spun thread. The thread then, is turned into fabrics, like T-shirts, undies and sweaters.
Cotton is very versatile, breathable, natural and comfortable. It is soft and warm, but not as warm as wool. It is perfect in summer, but a thicker garment can get you through winter, too. Most cotton is used for underwear actually. And I bet that the fabric shopper you carry around is made of cotton, too! :)
One of the major problems with cotton these days is that it has become a highly unsustainable industry. Cotton fibers need lots of water, are vulnerable to pests and insects, and many fibers are bleached before they are dyed in all other colors of the rainbow. Sometimes, child labor is used to pluck the cotton.
Cotton also highly impacts the earth and leaves the land it grows on totally depleted.
An important alternative for cotton is to grow organic cotton instead. GOTS is the leading standard when it comes to sustainable cotton. They demand high environmental and social standards, to assure minimum negative impact. Read the GOTS general description here, if you’re curious to learn more about it.
The different prices for finished fibers indicates regular cotton on the lower end ($ 36 per kilo) and $ 106 for organic cotton. These price differences are logical if you realise that organic cotton requires much more work and maintenance and time to grow (because no chemicals to make it grow faster!).
Alpaca wool and cotton are both breathable fibers, although cotton is probably even more breathable. One difference between the two fibers is that cotton absorbs moisture, instead of repelling it. Alpaca is highly absorbing, too, although it repels water first thanks to its great wicking capabilities.
Alpaca is definitely warmer than cotton, but like I said, a thick cotton sweater can still keep you warm! Cotton is not wind-resistant or water-repellent, though, so if you’re looking for more protection from the elements than some cold, alpaca wool is a better option.
Compared to alpaca, regular cotton is cheaper, but organic cotton is still similarly priced as alpaca. It turns out, the fibers that are better for this world are all in that price range.
Polyester Is Cheaper Than Alpaca Wool
Polyester is a synthetic material that is usually made of petroleum. It is a synthetic fiber that is produced to mimic many other fiber types, especially silk-like fabrics, but also woolen garments can be pretty well-done. At least, on the outside.
On the inside, polyester is not close to being comparable to natural fibers. Polyester is not breathable, although it is water-repellent (because it is like plastic). Despite being strong, polyester is very prone to pilling. It is also very heat sensitive, and it can therefore even be dangerous to wear it close to heat.
Speaking of which, while natural fibers are often fire-retardant and self-distinguishing, polyester is highly flammable and will burn quickly and melts to the skin. Because of this, polyester needs to be treated with chemicals to make it fire-resistant.
Similarly, polyester can be treated to be made anything, but most importantly, it is often treated to be odor-resistant (especially sports equipment). Polyester is not antifungal, like natural fibers often are, so it will get super smelly (even by only looking at it!).
Polyester also has a negative impact on the environment. Because it is so cheap, it is often produced in mass-production, with land, water, and air pollution as a consequence. Chemical dyes, the chemical process in general and even the microplastics that it spreads when it is washed are only a few examples of how polyester negatively impacts the environment.
Because the yarn can be made in so many different ways, it can be produced to make quite a lot of different types of garments, though.
Just look at the price. Sure, maybe luxury fibers are expensive (which they aren’t, because they are worth it!), but if you look at the prices of polyester, all alarm bells must be going bananas, right?!
Polyester doesn’t have a raw fiber price, although you could possibly consider oil prices...?
I am including polyester in this comparison because it perfectly shows why polyester fibers are produced (that is, despite their terrible environmental and social impact): it is super cheap to make. And when something is cheap to make, there is a big margin for some.
While it would be easy to put the blame on the producers, we could also reflect a little bit on our own shopping habits. If we would spend a little bit more money on fibers that would last us a little longer and that wouldn’t leave such a terrible impact on the environment, we there wouldn’t be such a high demand for polyester clothing.
Read more tips on how to make more conscious choices when it comes to your wardrobe in another article I wrote: 26 Sustainable Shopping Habits.