Preserving Traditions and Artisanship in Modern Fashion

For many people, especially in modern times, there is a belief that progression often requires one to "let go of the past". That, in order to move forward (be it societal or personal) we must purge ourselves of "antiquated thinking". 

And while that is true for some things, for others maybe not so much. 

When it comes to fashion and the artisanship of works made with alpaca, many of the farmers and weavers still follow the traditional alpaca designs. 

In this article, we are going to go over the many forms of alpaca artisanship and how they have found a way to stay relevant in an ever progressing modernistic world. 

Breeding and Farming Alpaca

During the breeding process, alpacas are specialized in either black, white, or chocolate-colored wool fleece fibers. The birthing (or "gestation period") takes between 330 to 375 days and results in only one baby per coupling. 

In order to ensure the quality of their alpaca's wool, most farmers refrain from using various chemicals such as antibiotics or synthetic hormones. Instead, if ever an alpaca gets sick, they practice the more time-tested traditional methods of medicine to help them recover. 

In order to maintain a manageable number of alpaca, many farmers will carefully cull their herd, producing various meats from them. In these instances, most culled alpaca are either males or females that couldn't carry a pregnancy or did not produce enough milk. This ensures there are not too many alpaca or too little being produced.

Shearing Process

An alpaca's wool fleece grows all year and is shorn shortly before the summer months. There, they work with a trained fiber production team to get as much wool from the alpaca as possible without harming them. In many of these farms, the alpaca is treated with the utmost respect throughout the process, with many viewing it as a showcasing of trust and cooperation rather than a simple contest of strength. 

While shearing happens only once per year for every alpaca, the team often spends time throughout the year bonding with the animals, showing them kindness and respect so that when the shearing process happens, they are fully accepting of the farmers. 

Before they begin, all dust and debris is blown off of the animal's fleece so that the fiber is clean of any dust. This process also prevents the shears from becoming excessively worn. 

During the actual shearing, each alpaca is tied down onto a mat before the shearers carefully remove their fleece. Afterwards, the fiber is sorted into specific bags based on the fiber's color and grade. It is then taken to the weavers and knitters to create different designs and clothing items. 

Prices for raw alpaca fiber can vary based on the overall quality of the fleece. For lower grades, it can sit around $5 per pound while rarer and higher grades, such as black and dark fleeces, can go for 5 times that amount at $25 per pound. In fact, some of the highest alpaca wool has ever gone for $14 per ounce for "long locks" (alpaca wool that has grown for 2 years or longer) for the global doll hair market. 

All of the fiber has an end use meaning that none of it is wasted in any way. 

The End Result

In the end, little goes to waste from the process. Even the more innocuous things like the straw and pine shavings that are in their pens have a function. In this case, they are used to absorb the waste from the alpacas, making an incredibly effective compost for various soils. 

If ever the alpaca dies, their bodies are used for numerous different delicacies, similar to that of beef here in the US. Similarly, their unshorn hides are tanned and sold as durable yet soft rugs, throws, or baby blankets. 

This means that, through traditional alpaca artisanship, not only are various designs made from the shorn wool of living alpacas, but their waste is used to fertilize the soil and the dead alpaca are made into nutrient rich foods for the Peruvian people. 

Keeping Tradition into the Future

It's important that people are educated on the traditional practices used in creating and designing items through alpaca artisanship. For many farms in Peru and the South American areas, selling alpaca wool and clothing is their primary, if not sole, means of income for them and their families. 

As such, not only is holding true with tradition great for us, it's vital for many others.