Is Alpaca Wool Vegan?
Updated: Jan 22
Whether it is Veganuary or not, veganism is hot and so is alpaca wool. But can you actually wear alpaca wool and be vegan at the same time?
Alpaca wool is made of the fleece of an animal called an alpaca. Alpaca is, therefore, an animal-derived product and thus not vegan. However, there are different categories of veganism and those who only apply veganism to their diet can still use alpaca woolen products.
It is an interesting tendency to see alpaca wool become increasingly popular due to its sustainable features, while veganism is growing simultaneously and refrains from animal-derived products completely - sometimes for the same reason: sustainability.
Where Does Alpaca Wool Come From?
Alpaca wool is yarn made of the hair of an animal called the alpaca. Alpacas live in the Andean mountains and highlands in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chile. A few alpacas have found their homes in other parts of the world, like the US, United Kingdom, and New Zealand, but the majority has remained close to its original habitat (Peru).
Alpaca yarn is made by shearing an alpaca once a year during the shearing season (October - March). This is the time of year during which the climate is milder than the rest of the year, and the alpacas happily let themselves be shorn.
The shearing process is generally very ethical and animal-friendly. With its increasing popularity, local governments and authorities are becoming more and more aware of the pressure (and desire) to live up to certain standards. You can, therefore, rest assured that alpaca wool is achieved in an ethical manner.
Once the fleece is shorn, alpaca wool is brushed, carded, washed and dried, before it is spun into yarn.
While most alpaca wool might be ethically obtained, it does not guarantee the well-being of the animal. This is where vegans step in.
The sole topic of veganism probably requires and deserves more attention than the few paragraphs that will be attributed to it here. However, it is not my purpose to convince or defend anyone out there, I just want to clear out that the answer to this question is not as black or white as it might seem.
Some practitioners of veganism will only apply their restrictions to the food that they eat. Similar to vegetarianism, vegans don’t eat beef, pork, poultry, fowl, game, or seafood, but add (and here’s the difference) dairy and eggs to the restricted list.
Dietary vegans don’t necessarily refrain from using animal-derived products in other areas of their lives: they can still choose to wear wool, leather, or silk, and still use toiletries that have been fabricated with animal products.
Note that dietary veganism isn’t the same as environmental vegetarianism, because the latter focuses only on decreasing the negative impact of the meat industry.
Ethical veganism applies the same dietary restrictions as dietary vegans but extends veganism to all aspects of their lives, including clothing, toiletries, bedding, household products, etc. An important aspect of ethical veganism is avoiding products that have been tested on animals, or products that are unethically obtained and can potentially cause harm to animals.
According to the Vegan Society, the definition of veganism is as follows:
"A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of animals, humans and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals."
Ethical veganism excludes products that require animal involvement altogether. It doesn’t matter whether the animal has been killed or not, as the only concern is the well-being of the animal.
Since alpaca wool is derived from an animal, it is, therefore, off-limits for ethical vegans. Dietary vegans, however, can choose alpaca wool as a sustainable option for their wardrobes.
The Grey Area In Between
In reality, the choices vegans make are not as black and white as outlined in the description above. In fact, while there are vegans that avoid animal products altogether, there are others who tend to prefer alpaca wool (animal-based) over other types of fabrics (even plant-based).
A major reason for people to become vegan is the sustainability-aspect of it. Given that alpaca wool is considered a sustainable option, vegans might be happy to use alpaca wool.
While there are many sustainable alternatives from natural plant fibers out there, not all alternatives remain uncriticized. Especially petroleum-based and synthetic fabrics (like polyester, nylon, and acrylic) and products have been disapproved of because of its negative impact on the environment.
Especially compared to other types of wool, alpaca wool is considered to be more sustainable and much more ethically obtained than sheep wool. The sheep industry has been critiqued for practices that are considered unethical and immoral.
Then, of course, there are also plenty of options that provide ethically obtained and animal-friendly sheep’s wool.
Generally, people can base their choices on sustainable reasons and can choose to purchase high-quality fabrics that require low maintenance and last longer to lessen the negative impact. Such choices can include alpaca wool.
Whether you are vegan or not, I believe it is always important to ask whether something is sustainable or not. Unfortunately, there are way too many cases of unethical and immoral behavior towards animals, and a great step for everyone to take would be to question the source of our products (food and non-foods).
If you want to learn more about the process of making alpaca wool read my article called How is Alpaca Wool Made and Is it Ethical?
Is alpaca wool cruelty-free? Alpaca wool is currently one of the most ethical sources of fabric that you can find. A large amount of alpaca wool still comes from Peru, where the animals live in their natural habitat and graze around freely. They only need to be shorn once a year, and when this is done, the animal is treated with care. Alpacas are not killed for their fleece.
Is alpaca wool sustainable? Apart from being cruelty-free, alpaca wool is also one of the most sustainable options available these days. The animal itself leaves hardly any footprint, the process of making the yarn uses very little water and no chemicals, and the yarn itself produces very durable items that don’t require a lot of washing.
If sustainability is high on your agenda, read more here: Is Alpaca Wool Sustainable?