In times of factory farming and consumption in abundance, society in the 21st century is increasingly asking the question of origin and production – quite rightly. “Organic” products are increasingly being bought in the supermarkets and the focus is shifting to a regional food production. “Is that real fur?” is often the first question a customer will ask after touching an incredibly soft product made from alpaca fur. “Did the animals have to die for that?” is usually the following reaction to the affirmative answer to the first question. And here comes the special thing about alpaca fur: NO, they did not have to. Not an everyday blog entry, but a true story.
It is a cloudy, cool Wednesday morning when Jannik and David set off for the Andes highlands with their local friends Kevin and Luis. Their starting point: Lima, the capital of Peru, on the rugged coast of the Pacific. Their intermediate destination: Jauli, a small town in the Andean region of Peru, 4300m. Their actual destination: unknown, in the middle of nowhere in the grasslands of the majestic mountain ranges. At an altitude of 4700, maybe 4800 meters. The first stage of the trip – according to Peruvian conditions – is reasonably relaxed. After the challenging traffic on the only road coming from Lima, which leads from the big city into the highlands, the two founders met their driver in Jauli who would drive the second stage with a 4 × 4 all-wheel car through the narrowest, sometimes muddy gravel paths on the edge of the mountain ranges. The third and last stage of the adventurous trip should at least bring the two Germans to their physical limits.
After even the 4 × 4 couldn’t go any further, there was only one thing left to do: keep walking. Luis, a local representative of various small communities in the highlands, was certain: if you continued up the meadows, you would soon reach your destination. Meanwhile, the height was bothering the entire quartet: their heads were throbbing, their hearts were pounding. Luis encouraged them to keep going. 20 minutes of the exhaustive climb, 30 minutes, 35 minutes. There was not a soul in sight. As far as the horizon, seemingly endless meadows extend – in the back, the gigantic mountain ranges, named Sierra – a world of fantasy.
Again, and again, the path lead over small knolls, new meadows opened up, decorated by a varied flora and fauna. The next hill had been reached, the next willow appeared – and then suddenly a house emerged, more precisely two small wooden huts with a few old benches in front of the door. On the left side of the hut, there was a large, round fence. And low and behold – the first shadowy creatures could be seen on the horizon, which seemed to be slowly approaching the huts: a herd of around 100 white alpacas!
Shortly afterwards, the alpaca farmer Angel had penned his herd in the wide, round fence. He is happy about the visit of the Germans; they are the first ever to visit him at this court, far from any civilization. He takes time to explain to Jannik and David how alpacas are raised, which are his only source of income. He was born here and grew up here. At that moment, his mother emerges from inside the courtyard, a very old, frail woman. She is often intimidated by strangers, says Angel, contrary to himself. He proudly talks about how much the alpacas mean to him; they are like children to him. In addition, they are very easy to care for and environmentally friendly, require significantly less water and feed to survive than comparable animals such as cattle or sheep and cashmere goats. In this way, the animals do not damage the sward so that they can graze again on the same pasture after a while. Nevertheless, the death of the animals, especially at a young age, can often not be prevented. The climate up here has become unpredictable. There used to be clearer times so that farmers could prepare for the coming weeks and months. In the meantime – due to climate change – the weather is acting up so that it is not uncommon for temperature differences of up to 20, 25 degrees to be overcome – within a day.
By breeding, however, a more or less constant number of animals can be ensured in the herd – the animals in the background carelessly led their natural bustle during the conversation. Jannik wants to know what the farmer does with dead animals. He usually offers it on the market, which he visits every two weeks. Sometimes, however, a friend of his also comes by to collect and sell the skins of the dead animals, says Angel. What happens to the rest of the animal? Is the meat eaten? Is it particularly productive for you? No – replies Angel. Although the meat of the alpaca is also eaten in some places, it is a pure loss-making business for him. With a one-time shearing, he earns more than with one animal’s fur. An incredibly important finding.
Jannik and David are the founders of WEICH Couture Alpaca, the first luxury brand to specialize in sustainable, ethically correct alpaca fur. The story accompanies them as they explore their company’s value chain to make sure it really is the first sustainable skin version.
Especially in the high-price segment, the conditions under which animals are kept for producing eye-catching jackets made of crocodile skin, glamorous coats made of mink fur, or elegant designer handbags made of snakeskin are highly questionable – if not terrifying. Often times, the animals’ fur – their skin – is torn off while they are still alive. A hideous torture. At Angel’s small farm, there is nothing like this to be seen. Apart from the fact that it is forbidden to harm alpacas in Peru, the farmers have no economic motives to harm their beloved alpacas. They would simply wipe out the only source of income for the next 15 or 20 years.
As a by-product of animals that have already died, alpaca fur is only taken from animals that have died a natural death. A revolution! No more suffering of animals, no more guilty conscience when wearing a fur coat or decorating with a fur carpet – alpaca is organic!
Beyond doubt, alpaca may not be the first sustainable and environmentally friendly fur alternative. But for the nature lovers among us – who long for a natural feeling and who don’t want to cope without the unmatched feel of a product made of real fur – alpaca offers a real alternative. No animals were harmed, no children had to toil for an elaborate polyester production, but a sustainable, and incredibly soft product was created according to traditional Peruvian handcrafts. The fur of the 21st century.