The Peruvian Incas were said to believe they were dressed in fabrics made from the finest yarns - bestowed upon them by the gods. This noble fiber was sourced from the wool of the alpaca – the fabled lord of the Peruvian Andes.
It was in 1979 that Italian yarn manufacturer Grupo Inca, realized the mythic properties of this exotic fleece, moving to South America for the production of alpaca fabrics and knitted garments. With a renaming in the mid-Nineties, Incalpaca TPX was birthed and since this day, the European-derived, Peruvian-based mill hasn’t looked back.
Still rooted in the qualities of Italian craftsmanship and modern technology, Incalpa remains an echo of the traditions of the Peruvian people, equally esteeming the alpaca and its yarn more precious than gold.
With over 4 million alpacas in Peru, there are two main local breeds shawn for textile purposes by Incalpaca: the huacaya, with a curly and voluminous fleece and the suri, whose fleece is shorter. Each animal produces a fleece weighing between 1.5 and 2 kilograms and the average fiber fineness varies between 15 and 28 microns. On site at the Tahuaycani, Arequipa-based site, state-of-the-art technology works harmoniously with traditional thread, producing one of nation's top quality alpaca wools.
Soft to touch, alpaca wool won’t burn unless in direct contact with a flame, it absorbs little humidity from the surroundings; and is thermally insulating.
Elastic and strong, the alpaca offers the biggest color range out of all the natural fibers and like fur, it offers a luxury drape and natural luster that does not diminish with time. But the alpaca animal isn’t harmed or killed in the process, making it the most animal-friendly and sustainable natural beast-derived fiber on the market. And unlike some wools, there is no itchiness when alpaca fleece touches the skin.
This makes alpaca a favorite material for luxury brands, either as a pure cloth or as blend, explains Claudia Fuentes, head of women’s wear at Incalpaca.
“Employed in a variety of products, like ours, the qualities of alpaca wool are very much sought after in the world's most demanding markets,” says Fuentes.
In addition to selling woolen and worsted fabrics, Incalpaca retails four ready-made product lines: knitted goods, accessories, outerwear and homewares.
“These (lines) enjoy prestigious positions in the home and international markets and are sold under many renowned names in the world of fashion,” continues Fuentes.
“We also have our own trademarks, Tumi and Cóndor, and our retail outlet chain, Kuna,” she adds.
Incalpaca has worked diligently to foster fair work practices with its weavers and local farmers. Building up equitable relationships and promoting cultural diversity is top priority to the mill.
“Where there is confidence, bonds are established,” says Fuentes. “We protect and encourage culture because we are an organization with a history, but always looking at the future. We promote the welfare of our communities, since progress is every person's right; and we have a commitment to the natural environment because we believe in it and respect life.”
In 2003, Incalpaca set up, with Inca Tops, the experimental station, Pacomarca. Situated in the Puno area, it represents the largest research and development project for the improvement of raising alpacas - studying and aiding the genetic recovery of the species.
The center also educates alpaca breeders and invests in both their business and personal development. Another initiative, the Ecological Patrol scheme, serves to educate people - namely children and the future generations, about the harms of deforestation caused by farming.
“We hope to eventually reforest the Arequipa region with the assistance of children who learn, by means of games, to develop an ecological relationship with the natural environment,” adds Fuentes.
Incalpaca is an official ambassador for Peruvian alpaca wool and for Peru - the country - to be seen as a legitimate partner for textile trade with top importing countries like China, Japan and Italy.
In 2010, Incalpaca was awarded the President of the Republic of Peru Export Excellence award. The top prize was given by the Association of Exporters (ADEX) for Incalpaca’s contribution to the development of Peru as an exporter, explains Alois Patthey Kaufmann, trade relations manager at Incalpaca.
"Exporters have a huge responsibility because we not only export goods or services, but our country, our tradition, our culture and ancient history,” said Kaufmann.
“We must work to the future with a clear objective, which is economic development, to go hand in hand with social development."
From the breeder who raises and takes care of the alpaca, to the master sorter who learned from his mother how to sort the fleece, the lives of the Peruvians are woven into a tapestry of history and future promise; a tale that Incalpaca is proud to share with the world.
“Behind every Incalpaca product there are many stories about people and their efforts to offer the best fiber to the world,” says Fuentes.
“Weaving alpaca wool is the weaving of stories - day after day.”