WHAT IS BABY ALPACA WOOL?
Published May 27, 2019 | UpdatedSeptember 23, 2020
You hear a lot about “baby alpaca” especially if you are taking a trip to Peru or are looking for a cosy pair of socks or a soft, warm poncho. And the words “baby alpaca” bring to mind cute, long-legged gangly, creatures with fuzzy faces, gambling through the mountains. But, contrary to what you might think:
BABY ALPACA WOOL IS NOT FROM A
NEW-BORN ALAPCA BABY
Baby alpaca wool is not necessarily sheared from a baby alpaca, but rather is a type of wool that can come from alpacas of any age. That said, more baby alpaca wool can be harvested from younger alpacas, as wool fibres tend to become more coarse as an animal gets older. Many travellers visiting Peru have the idea their baby alpaca wool sweater is from an alpaca baby, but in reality, the term refers more to where the wool comes from on the alpaca, than how old that alpaca is.
Classifying Alpaca Fibre
Once the alpaca fleece is sheared, the fibres are separated and classified based on three features: fineness, length and colour. Trained alpaca fibre sorters (usually women) can do this by hand and sight: they know where the different qualities of fibre are found on the animal and feel the fibres for fineness (rather than measuring the diameter each fibre with an optical microscope), with surprising accuracy!
Types of Alpaca Fibre
There are actually six to seven categories of alpaca wool (depending on the system used), but only three fibre types are generally used for alpaca clothing, as the other categories are either too coarse or too short to work into garments. The yield of superior fibre categories (listed below) can be up to 70-75% of the total fleece from the best wool-producing alpacas, but this varies based on the alpaca itself and the season’s conditions.
With diameters of 18 microns or less (a micron is 1 thousandth of a millimetre), Royal Alpaca – sometimes known as “super baby alpaca” – is the finest and therefore softest of the fibre categories. Royal alpaca is located on the back of the alpaca and is the least common of the wool types, so is the most expensive on the market. If you do find clothing made from royal alpaca, it will most likely be in an expensive store, made into scarves or a sweater. At Arms of Andes we make all our clothes (except the socks) from 100% royal alpaca wool fabric.
Baby alpaca wool is sheared from the neck and chest area of an alpaca and can also be found on the back, towards the bottom. Fibres with diameters of 19-20 microns are classed as baby alpaca and this is the second finest wool category. Baby alpaca is still one of the more expensive categories, but because it is more common, it’s not as expensive as Royal alpaca. During your trip in Machu Picchu or other parts of Peru, you’ll find jumpers, wooly hats, mittens, etc. that are made from Baby alpaca, although be aware that the cheaper items may not have the claimed baby alpaca content (it might be mixed with synthetic fibre or may in reality be the “superfine” category).
Superfine alpaca wool is sheared from the legs and belly area of the alpaca. This wool ranges from 21-23 microns in diameter, so is thicker than baby and royal alpaca. While visiting the Peruvian shops, you’ll come across lots of superfine alpaca as it is more plentiful, cheaper and easier for Peruvian businesses to obtain. Most rugs, blankets, ponchos and a lot of hats and gloves are made of superfine alpaca wool.
If you are looking for outdoor activewear with a softer feel, Royal Alpaca is definitely what you need. Arms of Andes is the first brand in the world to dare to create high performance outdoor gear with 100% royal alpaca wool in this style and knit. You won’t find jumpers, mid layers, base layers, leggings, t-shirts, vests and other activewear garments of 100% royal alpaca wool anywhere else. While royal and baby alpaca wool are mostly used for fashion, a closer look at the properties of alpaca wool – it is durable, soft, breathable, hypoallergenic, sweat wicking, and more – shows that it is definitely a good choice for travel and outdoor activities. Plus, alpacas can be considered as eco-friendly animals, as they are farmed in a sustainable way, with limited environmental impact. If you are going to travel around in nature, it makes sense to wear clothing that derives from an animal that loves nature.