The Fineness And Softness Of Vicuna Fiber

The Fineness And Softness Of Vicuna Fiber

by Jayne Rutledge

Vicuna fiber is the rarest, most expensive natural fiber in the world. Vicunas look like their cousins, the llamas, but they are the smallest members of the camelid family. They live in the high, freezing altitudes of the Andes. These animals were considered sacred by the Incas and only members of royalty were allowed to wear the precious cloth woven from their fleece. This fleece is not only very soft and fine but it has remarkable insulating properties and resilience too.

During the reign of the Incas, more than two million vicunas roamed the Andes. Subsequent cultures, beginning with the Spanish conquerors, slaughtered many of these animals for their precious hides. By 1966 there were less than 5 000 left and the Peruvian government had to step in. The remaining herd was placed on a 12 000 acre reservation. Capture and shave programs were instituted which meant that local communities profited more from keeping the animals alive rather than killing them.

A chacu was a ceremony instituted by the Incas whereby Vicunas were captured for shearing. They were surrounded by a human chain and slowly closed in one. They were then sheared and released back into the wild. Carefully managed, modern-day chacus are allowed today. A large portion of the profits return to the locals, giving them a sustainable source of income.

The coats of vicunas are not only unusually soft and light but very warm at the same time. This warmth and resilience is due to the extreme conditions in which the animals live. The fleece is much, much finer than a human hair and even finer than cashmere. It is the neck and the back that are sheared for the fleece.

The fleece has two different layers. The inner one offers insulation due to the fact that fibers are packed densely and air filled pockets are formed by tiny scales locking together. The outside layer is long and silky. The natural colors of the coat range from golden brown to deep fawn.

Traditional methods for processing these fibers have been handed down over centuries. The chacu, or traditional roundup ceremony established by the ancient Incas is still practiced today, although now it is strictly monitored. The ceremony involves the local population forming a circular human chain around the animals and slowly closing in on them, before taking them into small tents for shearing.

Another reason why these fibers are scarce is that an adult can only be sheared every two years. Added to this is the fact that one adult only provides about 120 grams, not enough to make even a scarf. In order to make a sweater, the fleece from about six animals is required.

What makes vicuna fiber even more precious is that, unlike goats, sheep and even alpacas, vicunas cannot survive in captivity, starving themselves to death when penned in. They have to be given freedom to roam in wilderness preserves. The relative scarcity and extraordinary expense continue to keep supply and demand limited. However, as more individuals become educated about this these extraordinary fibers, demand is growing worldwide.

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Title: The Fineness And Softness Of Vicuna Fiber
Author: Jayne Rutledge
Keywords: customer service, careers, business, sales, leadership, marketing, jobs, careers, employment
Word Count: 514
Category: Leadership

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