It takes a tough sort of person—and animal—to make it in the harsh Andean highlands. Unfortunately for the kind, hard-working people of the Andes, climate change has affected them more than most. The alpaca herds on which they depend had long been getting sick, needing more and more antibiotics to survive, and dying at alarming rates. And it all started with the Conquistadores.
The coming of the Spaniards was as hard on the Andean alpaca as it was on the native populations. Because the Spanish invaders saw these gentle animals as competition for grazing land—land which they wanted for sheep—the alpacas were killed and neglected, leaving their numbers sparse. Centuries of husbandry techniques faded and generations of knowledge were all but lost.
By the time the value of alpaca fiber was realized by international markets, the numbers of the alpaca were far from what they had been. Being the easiest to dye, white alpaca fiber was the most sought after, and their fiber was selected for. The result: even greater loss of genetic diversity, which is never a good thing.
The health and number of Highland alpaca declined to an alarming degree, and these sensitive animals began to require costly antibiotics to survive. Innovation was needed, and genetic diversity was key.
Progressive breeding programs began, mating males and females who not only provided the best quality fibers but also produced offspring that were both tougher and more adaptable. These pioneering efforts meant that the quality of alpaca fiber was able to jump by leaps and bounds. Strict grading and sorting systems were created to ensure that new alpaca yarns were among the highest quality in the world. Even the smallest alpaca farmers were invited to share in the new techniques, and to profit from improved breeding, sheering, and education programs. Through these advancements, a variety of gorgeous and natural shades of yarn are now available.
Alpacas are truly magical. They're gentle and sustainable, with an abundance of personality. And no other animal comes in such a rainbow of earth tones. By creating an international market for these gorgeous colors, we work closely with our Peruvian partners to ensure a healthier alpaca population and economic security for the Highland families who raise them. You can help too. Make purchases based on education and ethics. Need a good place to get started? Shop our PURE Collection. All pieces are undyed, using natural shades of organic cotton, sustainable highland sheep's wool, and YES, the warmest, softest alpaca. Or shop our entire collection of fair trade alpaca wool clothing.