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Animals of Royalty - The Suri Alpaca
Suri alpaca are believed to have been created through selective breeding of the wild vicuna about 6000 years ago, by the Andean people in South America. They live in the high altitudes of the treeless Altiplano, about 14,000 feet above sea level.
Siri alpacas were treasured and considered the most important animal in the Inca civilization. Because they were so valuable, all parts of the animal were used. Their meat was consumed fresh and in traditional preparations such as charqui (jerky) and chalona (similar to salt brine); with their fleece they made yarns and fabrics; bones, leather, fat and excrement had diverse applications such as musical instruments, footwear, medicines and fertilizer.
The textiles were very significant for the Inca Empire. The cloth was prized so highly, it was used as a form of currency and only royalty and the highest officials of the Incan society were allowed to wear cloth made from Suri alpaca fiber. Because of the value of the fiber, only chosen craftsmen were allowed weave the alpaca fiber.
Due to their status, they were preferred animals for religious sacrifices, as the Incas thought that sacrificing an alpaca served to appease their gods.
The Incas had developed a superior animal which had a finer and more even fleece than that seen in alpacas today. These genetics were largely lost as a result of the Spanish invasion in the 1500s, when up to 90% of alpaca were killed to make way for European livestock, which the Spanish valued more highly.
The Suri alpaca is very rare in South America. It is thought that as the alpacas and their herders were forced higher into the Andean mountains by the conquistadors, the openness of their fleece or defined part along the back line made them more susceptible to the extreme conditions found at such high altitudes.
Alpacas Today in Peru
Known as one of the most beautiful camelids in South America, the alpacas are indigenous to the Peruvian Andes.
Peruvian history is steeped in alpaca farming and alpacas are still a part of their culture and part of everyday life in the Andean region. From the breeder who raises the livestock, to the master sorter who learned from their parents how to sort the fleece, to the spinners and knitters who produce some of the world’s highest quality items for fashion supply chains; alpaca is part of Peru’s diverse textile heritage.
Peru has 87% of all alpacas in the world, divided into two different breeds: the Huancaya (80.4%,) and the Suri (12.2%). The main difference between both species is their fleece and they can breed with each other. Shepherds organize them in from 11,400 feet to 16,400 feet above sea level.
It is estimated that 80 percent of the alpaca in Peru belong to small owners and campesino communities and the rest to middle-class owners and associations. At least 200,000 campesino families depend in one way or another on the raising of alpaca for their livelihood. The raising of the alpaca is one of the most important productive and economic activities that take place in the high Andean area of Peru.
Today, there are two breeds of Alpaca: the Suri and Huacaya.
The Suri alpaca (which comprises the herd of Twisted Heart Alpacas) is a member of the camelid family, which includes the llama (which they closely resemble), Huacaya alpaca, the wild vicuna and guanaco (llamas are descended from), and the camel.
Suri alpacas date back between 5 to 20 thousand years and is known from archaeological records and are considered rare. It is said that Suri make up only 10% of the alpacas in the world. Even less than the estimated vicuña population (an endangered species) of 250,000.
The two breeds of alpacas can be recognized by the following characteristics:
Huacaya: They are the predominate type of alpacas, representing 90% of alpacas in the world. Its main characteristic is its coat, with colors in natural tones. The Huacaya fleece grows outward from the body like sheep wool does and it is crimped. They often resemble teddy bears.
Suri: You can differentiate it by its fiber which is long, limp, silky and bright. The fleece hangs from the midline of the back down each side and look similar to dreadlocks. It is known for its wide range of colors ranging from beige, brown, gray and black.
Many people are looking toward eco-friendly choices for clothing. Alpaca is quickly becoming one of the world’s most renowned sustainable fibers. Alpaca fleece is a naturally organic fiber requiring no chemical processing, unlike sheep wool.
Alpacas could be the greenest animals on the planet. They have a smaller impact on their environments than sheep do. Their feet are softly padded on the bottom which reduces environmental impact. They also have more effective eating and drinking habits than other grazing animals, which helps to reduces impact.
Alpaca fiber produces soft, warm, durable, natural garments, and a wonderful choice for the earth-conscious consumer
Alpaca fiber is considered one of the most luxurious in the textile market. It is appreciated by vendors, designers and customers because of its unique attributes:
Alpaca fleece is silky, elastic, soft, durable, and non-flammable.
The fleece’s silky shine remains despite production, dyeing or washing.
It is strong and warm.
It has excellent insulating and thermal qualities.
Alpaca fleece is considered hypo-allergenic.
It’s very thin.
It does not retain water and can resist solar radiation.
It has more than 22 natural colors..
The alpaca fiber is not only spun, it can also be felted to obtain beautiful cloths and manual alpaca felt.
Softer than Cashmere!!
For more detailed information, please see the FAQ's page.
Alpaca Fleece vs. Merino Sheep's Wool
Alpaca fibers have a unique physical structure characterized by consistent hollow voids throughout. These hollow voids trap air, which, in turn, increases the fiber’s thermal properties and creates a warmer experience for the wearer. This semi-hollow structure also makes alpaca fibers extremely lightweight, offering greater warmth for the weight than you’ll get with merino wool of a similar fiber size. Alpaca fleece is seven times warmer.
Retains Less Water:
Alpaca fibers are considered extremely water resistant, while staying highly breathable. That’s because they only absorb about 10-11% +/- of their weight in water, compared to merino wool at about 30%. That means alpaca dries faster and insulates better than merino when wet.
More Environmentally Sustainable:
Alpaca fleece does not contain fat, oil or lanolin, unlike sheep wool. Fatty lanolin has to be chemically processed out of the wool before commercial use.
Many merino garments are blended with synthetics, such as nylon, to increase their performance qualities, and synthetic fabrics have been proven to contribute to microplastics pollution in the environment.
Additionally, the raising and grazing of alpacas has a very low environmental impact compared to sheep.