Why Is Alpaca Wool Expensive?
Updated: Oct 12
Alpacas are adorable, fluffy and funny, but why are the wool and the products made with it so expensive? It is a question I am often asked as a producer and seller of alpaca products. There are many good reasons why alpaca wool is expensive.
Alpaca wool is expensive because of its very high quality. It is incredibly strong, soft and warm. Alpacas can only be shorn once a year, which makes their fleece exclusive. On top of that, the alpaca fiber is durable, making it a sustainable product.
So really, alpacas aren’t just cute and fluffy, they produce one of the highest quality wools available on this planet. On top of that, it is durable and exclusive. Let’s find out more about all of these points.
Producing Alpaca Wool is Labor Intensive
Alpacas live in the Andean highlands, spread across Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Chili and Argentina. Shearing these pretty animals requires special treatment in order to maintain the high quality of its fleece. Being different from other animals, the shearing process adds to the exclusivity and price of the yarn, and thus its products.
The Shearing Process
The shearing process is not necessarily time consuming, but definitely requires some skill. On top of that, it is also important that it is done correctly. Shearing an alpaca requires several people, often one or two to keep the alpaca quiet, still, and calm, and one person to shear the animal.
When the shearing process begins, the animal is attached firmly, without hurting it. Moreover, it is done to make sure that the animal doesn’t make any sudden movements and could potentially hurt itself. The alpacas lay flat on the floor with their feet stretched out. They are often put on sacks to make collecting the wool easier.
The shearing itself is done with animal friendly equipment. It is important that the wool is shorn off in one cut, so no going back and forth. The fleece that remains should be as much of one piece as possible, to make higher quality yarn.
After the shearing process, the hair is sorted, washed, and dried. Then, it is roughly spun onto cones that can be used for knitting. This is done either manually or with machines.
Alpacas Are Only Shorn Once a Year
In order to assure good quality alpaca wool, it is important that they are shorn only once a year. This will happen in spring or early summer, when their fur is long enough to make for high quality yarn. When the pieces of hair are spun together, longer hair will make for stronger wool. Hair that is shaved off more frequently will be shorter and thus of lesser quality, as it will be more likely to break.
Alpaca hair will grow over 7 centimeters per year, but the growth actually slows down after the first year. When alpacas aren’t shaved, the ends of their hair will become fragile due to extended exposure to heat and sunlight. The tips might even burn off and die. This deteriorates the quality of the wool and can be prevented by annual shearing.
To provide high quality wool, alpaca hair will need a minimum length of 7 centimeters, which coincides perfectly with the annual shaving. Shearing the animals annually helps to keep a close eye on the quality of their fur.
Hair that is shorn once a year generally makes for high quality yarn, while making sure that the hair has enough time to grow back. On top of that, the fresh grass that comes at the beginning of summer, gives the alpacas an extra source of energy when they grow new hair.
Alpacas need the yarn that Mother Nature has given them. If they are shorn in other seasons than spring or summer, or more than once a year, it is likely that the alpaca will not have enough fur to keep itself warm. In Peru, the “shearing season” is from October to March, but the actual shearing only happens in October and November. During colder times of the year, it is important that the alpaca can protect itself from cold waves and extreme weather.
That being said, in other parts of the world where it is warmer (Southern USA, for example), it is important that alpacas are shorn more often, to make sure they don’t overheat in summer.
Alpaca Wool Is a High Quality Material
Now that you have seen how the shearing process maintains high quality standards, you might understand that the wool itself is also of very high quality.
Here is the long list of qualities attributed to alpaca wool:
hypoallergenic (allergy free)
Read more about the qualities of alpaca wool in an article I wrote: What Are The Qualities of Alpaca Wool?
Alpacas Are the Rulers of the Andes
Back in the days, the Incas knew very well that alpaca wool was of extremely high quality. Legend has it that they even used it to make bridges over dizzying canyons!
Alpaca wool comes from an animal called an alpaca. Alpacas originally live in the Andes of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, and Chili. They live at high altitudes from 2,500 to 4,500 meters above sea level (MASL). At these altitudes, the weather can be extreme and they need their fur to protect them from icy winds and frequent down-pours. In one day temperatures can drop far below 0 degrees Celsius and raise to be over 30 degrees Celsius on that same day. As you can understand, it is important that alpacas have their fur to protect themselves from the extreme weather conditions.
Thanks to its natural habitat, the alpaca fiber has evolved to be a hollow fiber, with a small bag of air that “traps” heat, keeping them cool when it’s hot and warm when it’s cold.
Alpacas Don’t Shed
Alpacas don’t have the natural mechanism to shed their fur. This means they don’t lose any of their hair naturally. Nevertheless, they can overheat in summer when the weather gets hotter more regularly. Because of this, they can use a little extra hand to get rid of their warm fur. It is not bad for the animal to shear them, moreover, they will be thankful for it.
Important Things to Consider: Who Makes Your Item?
Given that alpaca yarn comes mostly from South American countries, many of the items made with its wool do so, too. Despite the fact that alpaca farms are growing in popularity, Peru remains the leading producer of alpaca wool (and the primary home for the animals), followed by other countries all over the world, like the USA, Australia and the UK.
You might think that labor in South America is cheap, which it probably is, most of the time. Nevertheless, it is important to keep in mind that not all cheap labor is honest labor, and that many brands, organisations and NGOs have surged in order to secure safe and honest work environments and wages. Consequently, there are many beautiful brands that will charge higher prices because they actually pay a fair salary to its employees.
It is worth investigating into the producers behind a brand. Sustainable fashion is not only about the quality of your clothes, but also about the quality of life of the people who make it.
Pure Alpaca Versus Blends
Are you comparing prices between different products? As you might understand the way an item is made can use different proportions of wool. For example, items can be woven, knitted, crocheted, etc. They can use small stitches, or big stitches, use small points or big points, single or double yarn, etc. Read for the details to see if an item is fairly priced for its size and production.
Another reason why prices can differ is because some items might use some type of blend, rather than 100% alpaca wool. If something looks too good to be true, it just might exactly be too good to be true! Many brands will sell their products as alpaca wool, but will often use a blend that includes acrylic or other types of synthetic yarns to reduce cost.
Learn More About Alpaca Wool
What should alpaca woolen products cost? A scarf that is made of 100% alpaca wool, should cost anywhere from 60.00 USD (small size) to 250.00 USD (large cape). Baby alpaca is more expensive, as it can only include an animal’s first cut.
When in a store you can recognize real alpaca by touching it. 100% alpaca wool feels cool to the touch, whereas blends and acrylic fabrics will feel warmer. Real alpaca also feels smooth and soft on both the inside and outside. Read more about this topic in another article I wrote: How Can You Recognize Real Alpaca Products?