The alpaca is a member of the camelid family – and is a “cousin” to the guanaco, the llama and the vicuna.
There is evidence that alpacas were domesticated as long as 6000 years ago in South America. They were an integral part of the Inca way of life, providing fine fibre for royalty and nobles. However when the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 16th Century, in an effort to conquer and subjugate the native people, they ordered a mass slaughter of alpacas and llamas. Reportedly nearly 90% of alpacas were wiped out at this time.
In the 19th century alpacas also played an important role during the Industrial Revolution. The industrialist Sir Titus Salt recognized the potential of the alpaca fleece and set up a mill to process and produce the fibre; an enterprise which proved very successful until the arrival of synthetic fibres. Then the alpaca and it’s products faded from the public’s perception.
However in the late 20th century alpaca breeding programmes were established in North America, Australasia, and more recently in Europe and once again alpaca fibre became synonymous with fine garments.