A Taste of Life at Windrush Alpacas

November 29, 2007

What does 100% alpaca really mean?

Filed under: alpaca, Alpaca Fiber, Alpacas, camelids, General, llama — Tags: , , , , — alpacalady @ 7:07 am

Every year as various catalogues arrive in our mailbox I always look to see if they contain any alpaca items.  It is exciting to me to see how many more alpaca garments and house wares are for sale throughout the US.  Some of the items are US made; many are imported from South America.

It is interesting to look at the pricing of the items, and to many the pricing of these items raises questions such as “why is this alpaca sweater $30 while another is $130”.  Both sweaters in question may be marked 100% alpaca making the price difference even more baffling to a potential buyer. 

So why is one sweater so much more expensive than the other?  There can be several reasons for the price difference, but the main reasons are the quality of the alpaca used in the garment and the methods used to process that alpaca fiber.

Without having the two sweaters side by side it would be difficult to make a fair assessment, but chances are that the $30 sweater will not be as soft or as smooth to the touch as the $130 sweater.  The alpaca fiber used in the $30 sweater is most likely of a coarser micron than that of the $130 sweater, additionally the way that the fiber is sorted has significant effect on the feel of the end product.  To sort the fiber correctly involves more labor and therefore would reflect more cost in the end product.

While the label on each sweater may say 100% alpaca, those words do not fully address the quality of the alpaca fiber making up that sweater.  Even if the label says 100% baby alpaca on each sweater there could still be a significant difference.  The term “baby alpaca” leads many to believe that the alpaca used is from a cria and therefore very soft, but “baby alpaca” is the name of a grade of alpaca and actually refers to alpaca fiber ranging from 22.5 to 23.5 microns.  Again the sorting process could have a great effect on the feel of the end product.

Anyone who manufactures or sells clothing or household items that contain any kind of wool, including specialty wools like cashmere, camel hair, mohair, alpaca, llama, or vicuna, must comply with the Wool Products Labeling Act.  The Act is long and not really everyone’s idea of a good read but it does outline how an item containing alpaca should be labeled. 

Unfortunately it seems as if some countries that export alpaca items go by their own labeling laws.  The importer of the item is supposed to check the content of the garment and is responsible for ensuring that the product complies with the Wool Products Labeling Act but I suspect very few do.  In some foreign countries the labeling laws allow up to 40% foreign material in an item marked as “100% alpaca”, and so therefore your 100% alpaca sweater could actually contain 40% llama, angora or even acrylic yarn. 

This is not to say that all imported alpaca goods are inaccurately labeled, but there are many that are and a buyer needs to exercise caution when spending their valuable cash on something they feel is a bargain.  That bargain may not be what it seems to be resulting in the purchase of an itchy, coarse garment.  A true 100% alpaca sweater that has been manufactured from yarn that is correctly sorted and graded has an exquisite buttery feel quite distinct from any other yarn.

 I hope that many people are looking to include something alpaca in their Christmas gift buying this year, that would be great news for the alpaca industry provided that the items are of the quality that will encourage them to speak highly of alpaca fiber.

If you do decide to buy something made from alpaca fiber this year, then take the time to ask a few questions of the seller to see if you can verify the quality of that item before you purchase it.  It would be wonderful if you could support the US alpaca market by purchasing a US made alpaca product.  If you should decide to buy something manufactured overseas and the country of origin is a third world country, then try your best to buy something that carries the “Fair-Trade” mark.  The Fair-Trade mark will at least ensure that the producers of your purchase receive fair terms of trade and fair prices for their products.  To learn more about Fair-Trade go to www.fairtrade.net

Rosemary 

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