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Wool exports boom as Alpaca fleece becomes fashionable
Aug '08
Wool exports have nearly doubled to more than US $43 million in the past four years as demand for fleece of vicunas, alpacas and llamas used in the manufacturing of pricey ponchos, pants and pea coats coming in vogue.

Fleece shorn from vicunas, alpacas and IIamas, together called camelids, is unbelievably soft and luxurious. While alpaca knitwear is widely used for making hats, gloves and alpaca-line boots. Vicuna is the costliest of the three breeds and is trimmed only once every two years.

About a meter of its fabric sells for at least $3,000, while a basic stole at a factory store starts at nearly $950. A similar stole made of alpaca and which accounts for about 99 percent of the camelid exports, sells for $47.

These extremely warm, dyeable fibres which were earlier used only as sportswear fleece are now being recast as luxury thread, spun into casual clothes and evening wears. Demand for the fleece is burgeoning largely because of its popularity with eco-conscious designers.

So much so that designers and producers are finding new means to recreate traditional practices on a larger scale and to use fleece to weave softer fabrics. In fact, the Government of Peru is also taking efforts to promote wool fibres, by sending local designers to Europe to promote domestic fashion on an international platform.

Even last year in January, nine designers traveled to Paris to participate in the ready-to-wear show and display their classic collection that included slacks, coats, dresses and jackets to potential buyers.

Moreover, breeders and textile enterprises are also trying to improve their techniques for separating coarser, cheaper fibres, shorn from alpacas' necks and hoof-areas, from longer, more delicate flank hair. Besides, they are also looking for a scientific way to improve the quality of fleece.

It is fact that the finer and lighter fleece is the most sought-after and also more expensive, which has been understood by the farmers too. Exports too are booming at an exceptional rate. Nearly 3,800 tons of alpaca, vicuna and Ilama fleece were sold in 2006 mainly to countries like Italy, the UK and China in form of ready-made clothing and yarn.

The fleece has a very marginal share of the already small luxury fibre market. 46 percent of the textiles sold last year were polyester, 39 percent were cotton and two percent wool, which leaves very little space for any other fibres. But this also works as an advantage as there is little or no competition to the alpaca in the niche luxury fibre segment.

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