THE HISTORY OF ALPACA
45-40 MILLION YEARS AGO
Alpacas are a domesticated member of the Camelidae family, which first appeared in the Americas 45-40 million years ago. From the common ancestor, the Protylopus, two camelid tribes emerged over millions of years: the Camelini and Lamini. Members of the Camelini tribe headed east, to Asia and Africa, while the Lamini family moved south, towards South America. The Lamini genus Hemiauchenia, a common ancestor of the South American camelids, migrated to South America about 2-5 million years ago, splitting into Palaeolama and Lama. The Lama tribe then split further into a further two groups, Vicuna and Guanaco. Both tribes still live in the wild in the Andes today, the former mostly in Bolivia, Peru and Northern Chile, the latter in Chilean and Argentine Patagonia.
5000-500 YEARS AGO
The alpaca has been domesticated for over 5,000 years, although it is thought that humans used their fibre prior to domestication. Smaller than the llama, which was domesticated for use as a cargo animal, the alpaca was bred for its soft, luxurious fibre. The alpaca was still held in the highest regard when the Inca came to power in the Andes over 3,000 years later. Also known as "The Fibre of the Gods", alpaca wool was used to make clothing for royalty and it is thought that alpacas were the subjects of sophisticated Inca breeding programs. Archaeological evidence suggests alpacas were worshipped by Inca society, associated with Pachmama (the Earth Mother), in Andean mythology. Legend has it that alpaca were loaned to humans by Pachamama, to stay on earth, as long as they were properly cared for and respected.
500 YEARS AGO
The story of the Inca and their beloved alpacas took a turbulent turn when Spanish forces invaded their territories in 1532. The Spanish Conquest lasted 40 years in total, and led to the decimation of the Inca Empire. The invaders grossly underestimated the value of alpaca fibre, due to the abundance of gold, silver and other precious metals, replacing alpacas with sheep and cattle. The Spanish used alpaca primarily as a food source, so their numbers dwindled. This noble animal might have vanished from history completely, were it not for the vanquished Inca. Those who managed to retreat into the inhospitable mountains, brought their animals with them, keeping the gene pool of the alpaca alive.
A few centuries after the alpaca faded into obscurity, their fibre once again gained prominence in England, during the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century. Historians note that alpaca wool was spun in England around 1808, but it was condemned as an unworkable material. It was not until 1836 that a man called Titus Salt revealed the true qualities of alpaca. A wool-stapler from Wakefield, Titus came across some discarded alpaca wool in a warehouse, which after months of experimentation, he was able to work into a soft lustrous cloth, suitable for making expensive clothing. He presented a gown made from the fabric to Prince Albert for Queen Victoria, rendering alpaca wool the height of fashion and creating enormous demand. The success of alpaca wool fabric made Titus one of the richest men in Yorkshire.
PRESENT TIME: AOA STORY
The advent of cheap, high funcitoning synthetic fibres in the middle of the 20th century, once again pushed alpaca fibre into the background. However, the interest has surged in recent years, in part due to increasing environmental awareness and the fact that alpaca farming has a low impact on the environment, but mostly because of alpaca wool's exquisite softness and warmth.
One day, Rensso and AoA co-founder, heard a podcast about the benefits of merino wool for outdoor clothing and it sparked the idea of using alpaca fibre instead. Although alpaca wool was known in fashion industry, it seemed that no-one else fully realised the functional benefits or the importance of this “fibre of the Gods”, widely used by people from Peruvian highlands. Together with his sister, Meli, they decided to take a closer look at alpaca fibre and its functionality; that was the beginning of Arms of Andes.
Determinedly studying the beneficial properties of alpaca fleece and the story behind it, Meli and Rensso researched, ran tests, learned from their many mistakes and finally created the first Royal Alpaca Wool Mid Layer in 2017.
In November 2018 Arms of Andes made our first sale and the website was launched. The initial product line was limited to midlayers, available only in black.
After five months working on our collection, Arms of Andes extended our line in April 2019, adding a wide range of products, including alpaca wool base layers, t-shirts, bottoms and thermal underwear, as well as alpaca accessories.
From the beginning, Arms of Andes has made sustainable production a main priority, looking for the most natural ways to create our clothes. Inspired by our ancestors, who added color to their textiles using plants, animals, and minerals from their surroundings, we decided to bring these traditional practices and knowledge into the world of modern outdoor apparel. Starting with the upcoming collection, Arms of Andes is introducing a line of garments colored with all natural dyes.