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Alpaca United Formed To Promote Alpaca Fiber

Old Lyme, Conn.-based Alpaca United L3C, formed by a group of North American alpaca farmers and processors, is gearing up to promote alpaca fiber as a luxury fiber on a par with cashmere, mohair and vicuña. According to CEO Nicholas Hahn — who served as CEO and president of Cotton Incorporated in the 1980s and '90s and oversaw much of its branding and marketing activity leading up to and during that period — Alpaca United is in the process of designing a logo with a tagline, building a website and developing a social media strategy to help bring the fiber into the mainstream of the luxury fiber market.

Some 9,000 to 10,000 farmers across the United States are raising a total of some 210,000 alpacas, Hahn said. "These farmers were behind the initiative in a way very similar to the way Cotton Incorporated got started in the 1970s, and the industry is anxious to start a brand identification program to add value to the fiber.

"Most alpaca fiber produced in the United States is processed domestically at what Hahn described as "mini-mills" that spin hand-knitting yarn. "It's primarily a cottage industry," he said. "A lot of farmers raise the animals, shear them and send the fiber to mills for processing; and hire knitters to make products to sell out of retail stores on the farm and through websites."

Alpaca is already used by some commercial manufacturers, including companies such as Gap Inc. Alpaca United hopes to increase the fiber's commercial exposure in apparel and home textiles such as blankets and throws. "There's not a lot of commercial-level processing going on," Hahn said.

"Alpaca blends well with wool, cotton, silk and cashmere," he added. "This side of the business is very much of interest to us, so we can make über-luxury blends, such as alpaca/Supima® or alpaca/silk. It also dyes very well, and is flame-resistant and hypoallergenic."

May/June 2011