The Advantages of Alpaca Wool
Alpaca – the secrets in the fibre
Alpacas are often called the "Gold of the Andes" because their extraordinary fibre is internationally recognized as the one of the most luxurious fibres in the world. The alpaca fibre has many unique qualities that make it far superior to other wools:
- Alpaca is fire resistant
- The colour of alpaca products does not bleed or fade
- Alpaca maintains its appearance over time and pills less than wool or cashmere
- Alpaca is lighter in weight and warmer than any other wool and cashmere
- Alpaca is hypoallergenic
- Alpaca is eco-friendly
- Alpaca fibres are less prone to cause prickle or itching
- Alpaca fibre is so strong and durable and wrinkle resistant
- It does not retain water, is thermal even when wet and can resist solar radiation effectively
- Possesses extraordinary shine and lustre
- Alpaca fibre is easy to clean
Alpaca is hypoallergenic
Although an actual allergy to wool itself is rare, there are a few ways in which wool can affect those with allergies. Lanolin is a naturally occurring substance that helps sheep shed water from their coats, and many individuals who think they are allergic to wool are actually allergic to this "wool wax." Lanolin also harbours dust mites and other organic matter amongst the scales of the fibre that can trigger allergies. Alpaca wool contains no lanolin and the scales of the fibre are much smaller so it does not harbour allergens.
Many people are hypersensitive to the artificial dyes used in the garment industry. Alpaca wool is traditionally dyed only with natural colours.
Alpaca is eco-friendly
The Alpaca fibre offers one of the largest ranges of natural colours in the world. The Alpaca fibre possesses an excellent dyeing affinity and can be beautifully dyed in an incredible variety of colours without losing its extraordinary lustre. The use of natural dyes means that no harmful chemicals fid their way into the environment.
Alpaca is free from lanolin, and thus can be processed without the need for high temperatures or harsh multi-stage detergent wash to remove it during processing.
Alpaca is lighter in weight and warmer than any other wool and cashmere
Like wool and cashmere the alpaca fibre surface also has scales (cuticle cells), but their shape and character are different - they are smaller and more delicate than those of sheep wool fibres. Moreover the cross section of alpaca fibres is not as round as that of sheep wool fibres. The inner core can be a
consistently hollow core, or contain sections which are hollow. These air filled channels are largely responsible for the high thermal quality of alpaca wool and in making it remarkably light compared to other animal fibres.
Alpaca fibres are less prone to cause prickle or itching
Many people who cannot wear wool due to itching, report that they can wear alpaca with no reaction. Alpaca tends to have a low “prickle factor” which makes it possible for most people to wear it next to their skin without itching.
The actual cause of prickle in wool fabrics is the presence of relatively coarse fibres, stiff enough to press into the surface the skin. Finer fibres do not press into the skin because they buckle when pressed against it. The pain receptors in the skin only respond if sufficient force is applied to them, and for thick fibres this force is reached before the fibre bends over and buckles. For thinner fibres the pain receptor threshold is not reached before the fibre collapses. Prickle is therefore generally only a problem for wool fabrics because of the fact that thick fibres trigger the pain receptors.
The Alpaca fineness varies as follows:
19 microns (Royal Alpaca) – no prickle
22.5 microns (Baby Alpaca) – no prickle
25.5 microns (Super Fine Alpaca) – slight prickle
26 microns (Suri Alpaca) – slight prickle
32 microns (Coarse Alpaca) – moderate prickle
Research has found no difference in itch factor between garments made of wool, alpaca, mohair, cashmere, or man-made synthetics. The micron count of the fibre is the only determinant.
Kuna only supplies garments made using Royal or Baby alpaca. Baby alpaca is an industry term, which relates to the fineness of the fibres that went into that particular garment or product. The grade of fineness is not necessarily related to the age of the animal from which the fleece came. Through selective breeding, there are adult alpacas that continually produce fibre, which grades at baby or finer.
One final factor that gives alpaca its softness and further reduces the prickle is the height of the scales. On wool the scales protrude approximately 0.8 of a micron (scale height) compared to alpaca that protrude approx. 0.4 of a micron. This gives a feel of around 2/3 microns finer (softer) than the equivalent micron in wool. This makes the softness approach that of cashmere in royal alpaca.
Alpaca maintains its appearance over time and pills less than wool or cashmere.
During either machine or hand washing, wool fibres are stressed by temperature and rubbing and the tiny scales lift up. The scales also act as minute barbs, locking adjacent oppositely orientated fibres together. Such interlocking is irreversible. As a result wool fabric felts and shrinks. Alpaca fibres have a smaller scale height than wool and are less prone to interlock and felt.
Superfine alpaca won’t mat or pill. There is some pilling in baby alpaca. This compares to cashmere and wool that are prone to pilling.
Alpaca fibre is so strong and durable and wrinkle resistant
Alpaca fibre is second only to silk in its strength. Alpaca fibres do not lose strength as the individual fibre diameter grows smaller. The result of this is that alpaca fibre lasts longer than most any other luxury fibre, including other wools, cashmere, and silk. Alpaca wool unlike wool and cashmere is wrinkle resistant making it an ideal product when travelling.
The colour of alpaca products does not bleed or fade
Alpaca fibre comes officially in 22 beautiful colours. These are extremely resistant to fade or bleed, as it is the natural colour of the fibre. Alpaca fibre also dyes very well and retains its colour through numerous washes.
Alpaca is fire resistant
Alpaca is naturally safe and does not have to be treated to become inflammable. While it can catch alight, it will not flare up nor support a flame. Alpaca does not melt when burned, and so cannot stick to the skin and cause serious burns. The alpaca will just char and self-extinguish; giving off little heat.
It does not retain water, is thermal even when wet and can resist solar radiation effectively.
Alpaca is virtually water repellent. This extreme water resistance may be the reason why alpaca so successfully wicks moisture away from the body, through capillary action and increased evaporation over a wider surface area. These factors are what makes alpaca feel lighter than wool, but warmer than cotton in cool, damp conditions. In cold weather, even a little moisture on the skin will chill the skin; quickly reducing body temperature. The water resistant quality of alpaca may be a reason some report that it resists odours better than other fibres.
Alpaca possesses extraordinary shine and lustre
Alpaca cloth exhibits an excellent drape, appearance, natural lustre and handle; it maintains its new appearance for a very long time. In contrast cashmere loses its lustre after two years.
Alpaca fibre is easy to clean
Alpaca is water resistant, making spills easy to clean up before water saturates the fibre allowing stains to develop. It is also adsorbent to oils, meaning that the oils do not penetrate the fibres, but merely cling to the fibre for easy cleaning without harsh chemicals.
Alpaca is free of lanolin, and it is the lanolin that picks up the dirt. This being the case an alpaca garment may be worn repeatedly without needing to be washed. Washing in lukewarm water with a mild shampoo will suffice to clean the garment.