If you ever visit Machu Picchu, you'll come across the alpaca who live among the stunning ruins. The adorable creatures are native to Peru, where they've resided for thousands of years, and the country continues to have the largest population of alpacas in the world, in particular the town of Chinchero, “the alpaca capital of the world.”
For hundreds of years, alpaca fiber has been woven by the indigenous population into colorful textiles, the tradition being passed down to each generation. As one local woman told a visiting journalist: “There are schools to learn weaving and spinning techniques but we learn it from our mothers and grandmothers, generation by generation. We are still practicing the Inca’s techniques with the same tools.”
The women of the Sacred Valley shear the alpaca and begin their process by first washing the material in a soapy mixture they create by mixing a grated jabonera root, derived from the soapwort plant, with hot water. They then use a handheld drop-spindle called a pushka to spin the fibers into thread. The yarn is naturally dyed, and for this process they may use flowers, vegetables, leaves, moss, plants, bark and even insects. Finally, they weave the textiles using a loom with two wooden posts to keep each end secure, with one end wrapped around their waist.
The growth in tourism to Peru in recent decades has brought alpaca fiber to more people and demand has risen considerably. It was one such trip to the Sacred Valley that inspired Cecilia to use alpaca for its camera straps, which have proven to be very popular with Cecilia customers.
There are also benefits from an ethical standpoint. For animal lovers, “alpaca wool is a good option,” says Peruvian specialist Ilaria Niccolini of FTL Moda. “There’s no such thing as mass alpaca farming here in Peru — the animals all roam free and are treated well.”
There has been a tremendously positive impact on the lives of the women who weave and sell alpaca for their livelihoods. Niccolini says, “It’s incredible to see the difference this trend has made.” The women are earning more money than the men, they're learning business skills, and the increasing income enables them to send their children to school and university. The Center for Traditional Textiles in Cusco works to promote the tradition and to ensure 80% of funds raised go to weavers from the 10 weaving communities in Peru.
Alpaca is now so globally popular, it's even been on show at Giorgio Armani catwalks. Cecilia is proud to do its bit to support these weaving communities and help keep their culture and tradition thriving.