Section 1.7: Alpaca vs. the Competition

Alpaca are renowned for producing the world’s most sustainable luxury fiber. Alpaca Fiber can be eco-friendly, softer than cashmere, and warm as polar bear fleece.

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Alpaca vs. the Competition

Much can be learned from comparison, whether in ideas, points-of-view, products, or alpaca fiber. Let us look at our alpaca fiber harvest from the point of view of a manufacturer of fine textiles. Of what value is alpaca fiber to such a manufacturer? 

Alpaca fiber is rare – like diamonds or gold. But, rarity is not necessarily indicative of perfection. Take Cabbage Patch Dolls, for example. Prices soared as consumers struggled to find these rare gifts for children and collectors. A lack of supply, coupled with high demand, drove prices (and profits) through the roof. But, the novelty soon wore off. What are these dolls worth now? Certainly not what we who jumped on that bandwagon paid for them at the time.

Note: Rarity may serve us well now, but it will not continue to do so, as the American alpaca fiber supply slowly grows. Rarity, for alpaca producers, is likely to function only as a short-term marketing strategy.

Alpaca breeders rightly worry about the alpaca fiber supply. If a wild demand for alpaca fiber suddenly emerged among North American consumers, American fiber producers would likely be unable to deliver an adequate and sustained supply of product. In that event, the mania for North American-grown alpaca would likely soon fizzle. Current producers, therefore, need to work to ensure there is sustainable method for attracting new breeders to the industry. Furthermore, it is critical for breeders to not only build a continuous supply of marketable fiber, but to also ensure consistency in that supply by establishing widespread use of standardized methods for shearing, harvesting, grading, sorting, classing, and quality control.

In order to attract new breeders, and thus grow the North American herd, current producers must work to demonstrate to potential new breeders the viability of additional revenue streams – an annuity, if you like, - by means of a consistent yearly harvest. We must understand our fiber, the textile markets, and fashion trends. Although we need not be experts in all of these fields, but must be aware of potential avenues to create and market our unique, luxurious, elegant, and socially-conscious end product. 

What is the value or potential value of what is growing on the backs of our alpacas in our pastures, paddocks, and back yards? To appreciate that value, we must compare our harvest to our competition’s harvest – in the spirit of ”not better, but different.” There is no “golden fleece” that is perfect in every way. Alpaca, however, sure has a lot going for it!

Alpaca Fiber Production vs. Its Competition By Weight: (study from ten years ago - 2008)


Major Producers




5000 tons



6000 tons



10,000 tons



600 tons



3 tons


South Africa-USA-Turkey

29,000 tons


New Zealand-Australia-South Africa

2,000,000 tons

Above table from Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO) From the above table it should be clear that production of alpaca fiber would surpass that of wool just after the Chicago Cubs win the World Series two years running. We are and will be a niche market product, at least for the foreseeable future. However, we have the ability to make that market both very lucrative and socially responsible.

Comparing Alpaca Based on Fiber Qualities:

Making any “blanket” or absolute statement that broadly compares one fiber to another can be problematic. For example, statements that, ”Cashmere is prettier than alpaca,” or that, “Silk has more luster than Suri,” are subjective and highly dependent upon the specific products or fiber samples being compared. Although it is a fact that it generally takes fewer alpaca fibers to produce the same insulative effects as wool, this does not translate into a statement that alpaca is warmer across the board. Rather, it is just that, often, less alpaca is required to provide a given level of insulating protection. Actually, the most important variable in the statement is that the degree of insulation achieved is highly dependant upon the construction of the garment.

In fire retardancy testing, the level of retardancy achieved is similarly dependant on the construction of the garment, not just the type of fiber. The form of the fiber, whether it be raw, knitted, woven, tightly woven, and even the type of weave in a fabric, greatly affects a product’s flammability. These same factors similarly affect insulative attributes, tensile strength, water resistance, water absorbency, durability, and hypoallergenic characteristics, among many others. 

Broad statements comparing fiber types should not be made unless they are based on verified studies that substantiate the characteristics being propounded. As alpaca products become more mainstream, it will become ever more important that breeders not present unsubstantiated claims. We must have testing results on which to rely.

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