When I first opened our alpaca farm and store, I was enthralled by the allure of alpaca. Soft, warm, hypoallergenic, and so sustainable. They felt magical to me.
Along the journey, I discovered the alpaca industry is full of people who love these amazing creatures as much as I do. We are passionate about the animals, the amazing fiber they create, and the sustainable goods they produce. We treat our alpacas like pets, we love them, and we take great pride in the goods we produce from their annual fiber shearing.
What I also discovered is the imposters who misrepresent alpaca products, hide important details on materials and their origin, and confuse (and scam) buyers. The internet is now filled with alpaca products that are nothing but real alpaca. They have very low percentages of alpaca fiber, they are imported from China, and they are sold by people who don’t care about the animal or the industry.
And to make matters worse, they dominate Google searches and listings on Amazon or Etsy. They create confusion and mistrust for consumers, while also leaving these buyers with low quality products.
The unfortunate part of all of this is it is very hard for American alpaca breeders to stop it. We have very limited commercial production of alpaca products in the USA, and this constraint makes it extremely hard to create a robust production channel to fuel the consumer demand for sustainable and legitimate alpaca products.
My husband and I have been desperately trying to turn our raw alpaca fiber into finished goods.
We’ve sent our fiber to small cottage mills to produce yarn, which then goes to my mother-in-law and other local artisans to make hats, mittens, scarves, and shawls. While this works, it is a process, and it is limited to these ladies’ skills and the small mills that have a 12+ month turnaround for producing the yarn required for knitting and weaving.
We’ve sent our raw fiber to mills to make dryer balls, rugs, and trivets. This is doable, but it is hard to sell against much cheaper dryer balls being represented as alpaca and sold on websites like Amazon.
We’ve also worked with our friend Stacie to make USA made alpaca socks and blankets from our fiber. God bless Stacie and her utter patience in guiding us through this experience and coordinating all the people needed to create goods at this level.
For these commercial socks and blanket runs fiber has to go through a multi-step process:
- Each individual fiber blanket is reviewed and sorted by an experienced fiber mill owner at our farm
- Next, the raw fiber is sent to a company to wash and scour it
- Then the clean fiber goes to a spinner who whips this into yarn
- Then the yarn heads off to another company to get knitted into socks or weaved into a blanket
- Then it comes back to me in Michigan to label and sell it
My husband and I are super proud of the products we’ve been able to produce, and we are working on another sock run with Stacie now. But it isn’t enough. We need more. This supply chain is fragile, limited, and more and more companies are closing their businesses.
Raw fiber sits in barns, basements, and storage units across the United States. And it sits there for years. This is not by choice. It is because our industry lacks an ecosystem to execute beyond breeding and showing alpacas.
My husband Jason has been working with other alpaca ranches and farms to get unused fiber out of their barns and storage units so we can transform it into goods. We know this process is slow and a huge investment for us, but it is critical to creating USA made products and keeping our alpaca industry viable.
Here’s the reality of the situation: If we can’t use the alpaca fiber grown in the USA, there is no point in raising these beautiful animals here in the States. We must create goods from their annual fiber growth for the alpaca industry to be sustainable moving forward.
That statement seems so logical to me, yet no one seems to be talking about it. I just don’t understand.
And with all of our efforts and investment, our commercial production runs and locally made goods only cover a portion of what we offer in our farm and online store. We simply cannot collect and produce enough alpaca goods to satisfy the consumer demand.
This means we are forced to go back to Peru and purchase goods from the artisan network there. For me, this is an acceptable action because alpacas originated in Peru and the Peruvian people are still a vital portion of our alpaca industry here in the States. Our top alpaca lineages came from Peru, virtually all of the alpaca husbandry knowledge comes from Peru, and ongoing research to advance the industry still happens in Peru. And heavens, they are just wonderful people.
I am often asked why we don’t have more products in our store made in the USA and from our animals. We are trying, but there is a limit to how much change you can force at one time.
As a result, I work directly with the Peruvians to source these extra goods, or I go through USA based wholesalers who I know use Fair Trade Certified artisans. Meaning, that the farmers and workers are paid a fair rate, they have rights, and the farms follow environmental standards.
Now let’s circle back to the alpaca products on Amazon. Do you know where those goods come from? Do you know what they’re made of? Do you know who is selling them to you? Is the fiber grown and harvested humanly? Is the production process of goods eco-friendly? Can you talk to an actual live person?
The answer to most of those questions is no. When you buy an alpaca product from a large network like Amazon you don’t know what you’re really buying, where it comes from, who is selling it to you, or if the animal who grew it lives a life worth living.
The same is true for Etsy, eBay, and all those other massive e-commerce networks.
This breaks my heart, frustrates me, and angers me.
I love my alpacas way too much to watch our industry falter. I look at my favorite alpacas Nibbler, Sherry Ann, or Jalapena and I wonder what the future holds for them and their offspring. Do the people who buy these cheap, imported, and fake goods know how special these ladies are? Do they know alpacas like them love humans, greet us as we approach, give us kisses, and love us as their owners? Do they know their purchases of fake and China made goods further fracture the longevity of the industry I hold so dear?
What can you do to help change this situation? A lot. Here is what I ask:
- Purchase alpaca products from actual farms and breeders
- Understand that we have constraints on how much we can produce and that some items do need to come from Peru
- Know that these purchases help support our industry and the care for these amazing animals
- Look at the materials used for products and question the seller if tags or online descriptions don’t make this clear
- Visit a local alpaca farm so you can meet these lovely animals up close and personal
- Stay away from large e-commerce networks and their products
We need to do better, and we can do better. All of us. And we need to. We owe it to the alpacas.
I’m going to do my part. One alpaca kiss, one shearing, and one product at a time.