Alpaca wool is an incredible and versatile material that is amazingly soft and warm but breathable at the same time. The wool comes from the alpaca animal, a domesticated camelid that is emblematic of the Andes Mountains. One excellent quality of alpaca wool that sets it apart from sheep’s wool is that alpaca wool does not contain lanolin – natural oil on sheep’s wool that makes it feel itchy after prolonged exposure to the skin. When the wool is sheared from the alpaca during the first two years of its life, it is considered “baby alpaca” and is prized for being super-soft.
When living in Peru, you’re bound to be confronted with alpaca products on almost a daily basis. While these cozy sweaters, hats, scarves, and shawls are certainly colorful, comfortable and make great gifts, it is important to know what you are buying and understand its value. Especially in Peru’s tourist markets, even though the tag may say that the product is made from alpaca, it often isn’t the case. Rather than selling pure alpaca wool, many products are made from synthetic materials or blends of alpaca with silk, sheep’s wool, or acrylic fibers. However, to avoid buying something of lesser quality than desired, there are a few tests you can try to determine whether what you are buying is really alpaca.
- Feel the material
Real alpaca wool is super soft to the touch, so it is important to feel the material to measure its softness. While brushed acrylic can also feel soft, the key is to feel the inside and outside as the inside is likely to be a bit rougher. Moreover, real alpaca wool will feel slightly cool to the touch, whereas acrylic will feel warmer.
- Closely examine the garment’s color
Quality alpaca products are often left to exhibit their natural color or are dyed with natural dyes. Natural dyes typically result in earthy colors such as different shades of gray, red, and blue. If the color seems unnaturally vibrant, it may actually be a synthetic material. Try holding the item up to the light; if the fibers sparkle, they are likely synthetic and were added to give the garment color.
- Question the price
If the price is low or seems too good to be true, it probably is. Quality alpaca clothing can be quite expensive, so expect to pay more than you would for other materials and wools.
If ever you want to purchase an alpaca product without doubting its quality or purity, there are a number of places you can go. Try a store with a reputation for selling quality alpaca products, such as Sol Alpaca or Kuna. While the items at these stores will cost much more than what is available in the markets, you won’t be left questioning whether what you bought is baby alpaca or "maybe alpaca".