Correction: My mom has told me that the farm I speak of is actually a llama farm. Whoops! If you want to see what an alpaca farm looks like, The Note Passer did a great article on one. I always remember one particularly inspired date I was taken on in high school. A really nice guy who was quite handsome, if pretty inept at social interactions and at dressing himself, picked me up in his hand-me-down minivan on Saturday morning. He had brought his beagle with him, but wouldn't say why. It was a surprise. Off we headed, Star Wars figurines nodding their heads on the dashboard. We ended up pulling up at Homestead Gardens, where everyone's parents got their plants and gardening supplies in the summer, and their Christmas decorations in the winter. I queried him, increasingly puzzled. But we weren't there for bougainvilleas. We got out, him clipping his hound onto a leash, and walked away from the greenhouse toward the fields next door. Because you see, there was an alpaca farm next to Homestead Gardens. Goofy, sweet-looking alpacas (much like my date) dotted the grassy hummocks. As we approached the fence, my date's beagle got increasingly excited, squirming and whining, and the alpacas lifted their long, soft necks. Then every single alpaca on that entire farm, near and far, all came gently galloping over to the fence. It was an alpaca fiesta, guest of honor the beagle. They weren't interested in us. They were just fascinated by that beagle. They craned their necks through the fence posts to sniff while the beagle wriggled in happiness. It was as if they had found their long lost cousin. I didn't end up going on a second date with that guy. As cool as the alpaca farm was, it was a high point in what was otherwise a horrendously awkward date. But I still love alpacas! They're adorable, fuzzy, and--as it turns out--way more sustainable as soft sweater suppliers than cashmere goats. Quartz does a lovely job of summarizing why alpaca wool is so superior to cashmere. But I'll summarize their points for you:
- Cashmere isn't what it used to be. The Chinese cashmere flooding the market is cheap and low quality.
- Cashmere is bad for the environment. Cashmere goats are overgrazing the land in Mongolia, leading to desertification.
- Cashmere threatens other species like wild horses, snow leopard and antelope.
- Alpaca production is good for Peru's economy and indigenous people.
- An alpaca sweater is more durable than a cashmere one, and is less likely to pill.
- A super baby alpaca sweater is just as soft as cashmere. (What you really want is something called "baby alpaca" which just means the hair is shorn from the softest part of a full-grown alpaca's coat. It's the best.)
- Alpacas drink less water and produce 16 times the wool as cashmere goats.
- Alpaca is comparable in price to high quality cashmere.
- Alpacas come in more than 20 different colors. White, orange, cream, coffee brown ...