It is always amusing to see what themes will pop up for each holiday! This year we're seeing llamas everywhere...and we aren't mad about it! What's not to love about these furry cuties invading holiday decor and gifts?! We've seen a lot of llama products at big box stores such as Target and from designers such as Johnathan Adler, so we went hunting around for our favorite fair trade, handmade items with impact!
By the way, llamas, alpacas, and their smaller, wild cousins, vicuñas, are easily confused, so we've combined them all here and labeled them...enjoy! Oh, in case you were wondering:
- Llamas have long banana-shaped ears while alpacas have shorter spear-shaped ears.
- Llamas are roughly twice the size of alpacas
- Alpacas produce more fleece in a wider variety of colors.
- Vicuñas are the smallest related to llamas and alpacas that live in the high Andes. They almost went extinct, but through conservation efforts are on the comeback.
- Vicuñas' fleece can only be shaved every three years, and is highly valuable. It provides critical income for impoverished communities in the Andes.
Now you know!
While we love seeing products shaped like llama, er, alpacas, er whichever one it happens to be, we are even more excited to see alpaca clothing options over the more traditional winter fabric, cashmere.
Turns out that alpaca fiber is much more eco-friendly than cashmere.
Cashmere comes from goats in Mongolia and China (the two largest exporters). Unmanaged growth of herds to meet global demand has led to an environmental crisis there. Almost half of Mongolia’s total livestock population are cashmere-producing goats, but falling and often volatile prices from the pressure of fast fashion has forced herders to keep larger and larger herds to shelter them against fluctuating prices. The population explosion has caused environmental stress: the goats' sharp hooves and high water demand have caused overgrazing, pastureland degradation, and desertification. And it's serious: today 90 percent of Mongolia is at risk of becoming desert. All for a cheaper cashmere sweater to hang in our closet.
On the other hand, alpacas are more efficient and eco-friendly than goats. They don't overgraze and their soft hooves don't tear up the roots of plants. Alpacas also drink less water than goats, while still growing enough wool for four or five sweaters in a year. It takes four goats the same amount of time to produce sufficient cashmere for a single sweater, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Look for alpaca that is sustainably herded in the Andes Mountains where families have been tending their herds using traditional methods for centuries. From there also look for garments created in fair trade workshops where farmers and workers are paid fairly and treated with respect and dignity. Scroll down for a few of our favorites!
Here are a few of our favorite fair trade, ethically made alpaca clothing items. Heads up, alpaca is going to be more expensive. In fact, you might even do a double take at some of the prices, but for each of these items, the land has been taken care of (priceless), the farmer has been paid fairly (priceless), the artisan designer (in some cases) and worker who made your clothes has been respected (priceless), and these clothes are designed to last with thoughtful care. There is so much value stitched up into one item of clothing and that helps look at the price tag more accurately.
Scratching your head about the "baby" alpaca? As Fair Indigo explains, "Contrary to what its name may suggest, baby alpaca comes from the softest underbelly area of adult alpacas. It’s stunningly soft and lightweight, but also stronger than sheep’s wool. Baby alpaca is free of the lanolin found in wool so it’s hypoallergenic and less prone to pilling. In addition, it’s up to seven times warmer than wool while being more breathable because of distinctive microscopic air pockets found in the fibers." We're totally on board with that!
Krochet Kids knew about baby alpaca when it set out to make the "World's Greatest Beanie" (below). The alpaca fibers used for the World's Greatest Beanie are sourced from Mallkini Ranch. Mallkini Ranch prides itself on being a socially and environmentally conscious space. Located in the Highlands, the alpaca are free to roam across the acres of land and while receiving the highest level of care. The resulting fibers are pretty much a cloud on your head.
Those are just a few of our favorites! If you have your own fa la la la la llama products you love, share them in the comments below! And if you're looking for a unique sustainable, healthy, ethical gift, let us know!