Who Grows our Clothes? Focus on Alpacas

A lot of people are asking “Who Made My Clothes?” based on the influence of Fashion Revolution. I am taking cue from Fibershed’s proposal of asking “Who Grew our Clothes?” This question draws attention to both the farmer and fiber producing animals. Since my focus is on animal fibers in New York, I’m asking “How are fiber animals being treated?”

I’ve learned a lot about alpacas and their fiber during my time in New York. I’ve had the great pleasure of seeing alpacas, spinning with their fibers, and knitting their yarns. It has become one of my favorite fibers to work with, especially with all of the natural color options. With more consideration towards the animal, we have to value alpacas as fellow living beings, and consider their welfare when we are creatively working, or wearing their fibers. This is especially important as the alpaca fiber community is growing throughout the U.S., and world as a natural, regenerative resource for sustainable fashion design.

All alpaca farmers I’ve met in New York have a great sense of care for their animals. Last year, I met a farmer who took in a black and white alpaca from another farmer who couldn’t afford to keep them. Instead of developing the farm with more alpacas, the farmer took time to care for the animals properly. The farmer saved the alpaca fibers for three years until there was enough to send to a fiber processing mill. I was lucky to buy some of the yarns and am still thinking about a special item to make with the precious fibers. The farm also had a few sheep and a lamb that was being cared for.

Birken Hill Farm and Fiber, New York Alpaca Yarns, 2015

I was very sad to learn this weekend that 143 alpacas died over the past few months in Marathon New York (about 30 miles away from Ithaca). The alpacas were under the care of a caretaker and died of animal cruelty and neglect while the farm owner was away in Florida. Twenty-one alpacas were able to survive after they were found and taken to a vet.

Even though I don’t have any alpacas, and only interact with them when I visit farms, I feel very close to them since I spin, or knit with their fibers nearly every day. I hope that there are greater efforts to improve animal welfare for alpacas and conserve them in the United States to avoid atrocities where fields of alpacas are dying. They are very special animals, and should be in the best care.

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