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Sustainable Clothing: Alpaca Fiber

Most people know that sustainability aims to protect the environment, but few are aware of the impact the clothing industry has on the planet. 

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Alpaca has become one of the world’s most renowned fibers. It’s incredibly soft. It has natural thermoregulating properties, and moisture wicking properties. And it may be the greenest option for clothes on planet earth.
Most people know that sustainability aims to protect the environment, but few are aware of the huge negative impact the clothing industry has on the planet. Today, clothes account for 8-10% of global carbon emissions. And 500,000 tons of microplastics are released into the ocean each year from washing clothes that are produced with petroleum. Our clothing choices directly impact our environment. So, what is the most sustainable clothing choice? Alpaca is one of the world’s most sustainable fibers due in part to its processing practices. The resulting material is incredibly soft. It has natural thermoregulating properties and moisture-wicking properties. And it may be the greenest option for clothes on planet earth.

Key takeaways

  • • Alpaca fiber is a natural fiber that is produced without the use of synthetics or harsh chemicals.
  • • Alpaca fiber comes from alpacas who roam free in their native environments in the Andes Mountains.
  • • Alpacas themselves have padded feet that are gentle and don’t cause harm to the local ecosystem, unlike the hooves of goats and sheep, which can cause land degradation.
  • • Alpacas nibble only the tops of grasses and other plants; they do not rip plants out of the ground, allowing the vegetation to grow back.

What is meant by sustainable clothing?

The World Commission on Environment and Development defines sustainability as meeting ‘the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs and desires.’ (World Commission on Environment and Development u.d.)

When it comes to sustainable clothes, there are three things to consider:

Environmental sustainability: This covers the preservation of physical resources and the impact of carbon offsets and chemicals on the environment

Social sustainability: This relates to using materials that are manufactured without exploitative or harmful practices.

Economic sustainability: This consists of creating sustainable practices that maintain and support long-term values, especially within local communities.

Within these three categories, major considerations in the clothing industry include: Carbon emissions, microplastic, land damage, energy and water consumption, and chemical use. Sustainable fabric causes minimal damage to the environment throughout its lifecycle, from the collection and development of fibers to their subsequent disposal. The benefits of adopting better clothing choices have immediate and lasting impacts. Sustainable clothing doesn’t necessarily mean creating the fanciest or most expensive new tech in fashion. Often it means going back to our roots. Nature's wisdom in regenerative practices and materials produces our most ethical options for fabric.

Why are sustainable fibers important?

Sustainable fibers are important to maintain the natural beauty and health of our planet. Supporting the future demands being conscious about all the waste and extra material we create during the manufacturing process because it impacts the next generation and future environment.

There are two main types of textile fibers: natural and synthetic fibers. Natural fibers are derived from animal and plant resources, while synthetic fibers are made from petroleum. Demand for polyester fibers continues to grow. This could be due to the cost of manufacturing and the accessibility of this type of fiber. But the generation of synthetic fibers involves many chemicals and harmful substances that are damaging to both the environment and society. Alternatively, alpaca wool provides a much more sustainable option.

Is alpaca fiber sustainable?

Natural fibers need much less production than synthetic fibers. Polyester fibers are made out of oil which requires significant processing. A Lot of energy is required to turn oil into fabric, but alpaca fabric can be created from shearing to wearing all by hand. Alpaca fiber only needs to be sorted, spun into yarn, dyed (if necessary), and knit or woven into a garment.

Once alpaca fiber becomes a garment it rarely needs to be washed since it is antimicrobial and moisture-wicking, which contributes to a reduction in water use. Compared to synthetic fibers, alpaca fiber is also a good material choice because it contributes to less water pollution. Alpaca fiber also has the potential to fulfill many of our raw material needs with less resource consumption, contributing to a greener planet.

Once a garment reaches the end of it’s lifecycle it typically ends up a landfill. Two ways to target this issue include: creating attire that can be easily mended or repurposed and utilizing fibers that the environment is capable of breaking down. Alpaca fiber is a great solution since it can be both mended and is naturally biodegradable.

How are alpacas good for the environment?

Alpaca fiber uses limited resources for production. The fibers themselves are 100% biodegradable. Alpaca farming is a sustainable activity due to the lack of chemicals and pesticides that are used during the process. These animals don't deplete water reserves like other livestock. They’re also low-maintenance animals, since they don’t require an ample amount of food or water. Alpaca waste can even be used as an effective fertilizer in order to support effective farming down the line.

Raising alpacas for fiber is also an ethical practice. Alpacas spend their time roaming freely in their natural environment in the Andes mountains. When it’s time for an alpaca to be sheared, it’s herded by its farmer alpacaro, gently sheared, then released back into its natural habitat. Alpacas are shorn once a year, and the shearing process is actually beneficial to the alpaca because it prevents matting and overgrowth that can lead to health problems. Because alpacas graze in their natural habitat, they are inherently sustainable compared to animals that are mass-farmed in regions of the world that are not properly suited for their needs.

Alpacas roam free in their natural habitats supporting biodiversity.

Alpacas roam free in their natural habitats supporting biodiversity.

Are alpacas the greenest animal?

Compared to the two natural fibers that are most similar to alpaca, alpaca is also significantly kinder to the environment. Sheep and goat fibers require more resources to achieve the same results as alpaca fiber. Alpaca fiber does not contain lanolin or grease; so intense detergents or chemicals are not required to wash it out of the fiber. Lanolin makes animal fiber very dirty. Since alpaca is lanolin free, it doesn't have a greasy layer on the fiber that needs to be washed off, which means that the production of alpaca fiber requires fewer resources. Compared to goats and sheep, alpacas also require less water.

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