Sustainability is key in the Alpaca supply chain

Peru’s Export and Tourism Promotion Agency, Promperu, is a public institution, responsible for the advancement of Peru in exports, tourism and image. Its mission is to position Peru in the global marketplace by promoting the nation’s image as a tourist destination and producer of value-added goods, thus contributing to the nation’s sustainable and decentralised development. Peru is the world’s leading producer of Alpaca, with 80% of the world’s Alpaca population located there, therefore the Alpaca industry is a very important sector for the country. FashionUnited chatted to Mario Ocharan Casabona, Director of Exports, Promperu, to get the lowdown on the benefits of the Alpaca fibre, latest sustainability developments and advantages for international companies to source Peruvian Alpaca.

How important is the Alpaca sector to Peru’s industry, and what is Promperu’s role?
The Alpaca sector is one of the most important segments in the Peruvian apparel industry. It is one of Peru’s flagship products and part of the culture and history of the country. To give an overview: In 2019, exports accounted for US$163 million (from fibre to the final product), with 380 companies exporting Alpaca goods, mainly to the United States (23%), Italy (22%), China (13.5%), Norway (7,8%), Germany(3,6%), the UK (3.2%), Sweden (3,1%), Japan (2,6%) and Korea(2,4%). Peruvian Alpaca manufacturers supply some of the biggest clothing and accessory brands and retailers in the world, including the likes of Max Mara, Prada, Missoni, Stella McCartney, Eileen Fisher, Nordstrom and many more. Therefore, it is a key focus of Promperu’s promotional activities. We organise different initiatives across our main export markets and develop strategies which aim to raise the profile of the Alpaca del Perú brand, coordinating efforts in terms of international sales growth, widening distribution channels as well as marketing the products to the final consumers.

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What are the benefits of the Alpaca fibre?
It is important to highlight that Peru has 80% of the world’s Alpaca population. There are two varieties of Alpaca, Huacaya (85%) and Suri (15%). The main difference between them is that the Suri fibre is shinier, and silkier than the Huacaya, but both have unique and remarkable qualities. Furthermore, the Alpaca is naturally hypoallergenic, it may go from 16 to 18 microns to 30, has around 22 natural colours in different tones, from white to black, and it is an excellent insulator, as the fibre retains the heat when it is cold, but is also light and has cooling properties when it’s hot. As it is a natural material, there are countless benefits to the Alpaca fibre.

Why is sourcing from Peruvian Alpaca suppliers appealing to international brands?
Alpaca attracts many international buyers for many of the qualities mentioned above, but also because there is a story behind the product, based on the origin, exclusivity, sustainability, tradition and social impact of the Alpaca. The social impact in particular is very important, as there are around 120 000 families, especially in the Andes, who are Alpaca farmers and form the foundation of the Alpaca supply chain. Alpacas are an important pillar in their livelihood. The Alpaca fibre is positioned at the medium to high end of the market, which reflects the origin of the fibre and the infrastructure behind its farming; from the weather, the millinery tradition, genetics and geography, a lot of factors combine to create a harmonious breeding ground within the Andean ecosystem. Furthermore, the textile production chain is very specialised, from the breeding and shearing to the classification and industrial / artisanal manufacturing. Each step requires specific human, institutional and sector capabilities, which are all provided in Peru.

Alpacas are considered ‘green’ animals. How sustainable is the Alpaca supply chain?
Indeed, Alpacas have a very low environmental footprint and the Alpaca supply chain is very sustainable. Alpacas are gentle to the pasture when walking as they have soft pads on the bottoms of their feet that do not damage the pasture, in contrast to goats and sheep, which have sharp hooves. Also, Alpacas nibble only the top of grasses, they do not rip plants out of the ground, allowing them to grow back and retain a natural cycle. Alpacas live at 3,800 meters above the sea level, so the water supply is natural, and this land is generally not suited for agriculture. When it comes to the actual fibre itself, it has a low grease content, so for the fibre washing process, it uses much less energy and chemicals and therefore has huge ecological benefits over other materials, in particular synthetics. As sustainability is becoming increasingly important in brands’ material sourcing, but also for the consumers themselves, who want to know how their products have been made and the environmental impact, this is a key advantage of Alpaca. At Promperu we run a programme to certify Peruvian companies in Fair Trade Practices. This is a national standard and fulfils the parameters that are outlined in the existing international Fair-Trade system. Furthermore, Peru has implemented a set of best practices that guarantee the safety and welfare of each animal; we have a range of technical benchmarks to reinforce these high standards, especially with regard to good shearing practices and fibre classification.

Are specific initiatives in place to promote Peruvian Alpaca and to support domestic producers?
Promperu’s primary aim is to promote the export offer of Alpaca within international markets. We therefore facilitate the participation of Peruvian exporters on different commercial platforms overseas. The Alpaca del Perú brand was created in order to position the Alpaca fibre at the medium to high end of the market, focusing on and promoting the origin and unique qualities of the fibre. With this objective in mind, we have also developed strong alliances with renowned brands such as Bergdorf Goodman, Max Mara and Peruvian Connection. In addition, we operate a concept store for Alpaca del Perú, located in Beijing, China, in one of the most iconic department stores, Wangfujing. There, we present a wealth of Peruvian brands and it is proving a wonderful platform to showcase the diversity, quality and flexibility of the fibre and its different uses.
Furthermore, Promperu is organising different activities to promote Alpaca in key markets. Because of the pandemic and ongoing lockdowns and travel restrictions, we have this year launched a host of digital activities and formats, for instance virtual editions of Perú Moda & Perú Moda Deco, which was held on October 1 – 30. This event changed its format completely from a face-to-face show to a virtual one. That said, the event increased in numbers; we had 86 Alpaca exporting companies, which means a 44% increase compared to 2019. Also, we had more than 100 buyers participating at this virtual edition, from Italy, UK, France, The Netherlands, Spain, Japan, Korea, United States, among others. This shows the increasing appeal of Alpaca and is an encouraging sign for us. For next year we are planning another edition of Alpaca Fiesta, a platform which showcases the whole Alpaca supply chain and is organised by the private and public sector. This event exhibits the capacity of the Alpaca industry along every step, from the breeding, through showcasing the best types of Alpaca to the organisational infrastructure of the businesses in the value chain. Around 60 producers and apparel exporters, from accessories to homeware, will participate and this event is set to attract buyers from all over the world. Furthermore, there will be a programme of dedicated seminars and fashion shows where the Peruvian design talent will preset latest Alpaca collections.

You mention the pandemic. What has been the impact of Covid-19 on the domestic Alpaca trade and what is your outlook?
Of course the pandemic has affected the majority of industries, in particular the fashion sector, and therefore also the Alpaca segment. However, it has also shone the spotlight on sustainability and reinforced the need for responsible sourcing and purchasing, and Alpaca, with its green properties, fits into this narrative perfectly. Brands and consumers are increasingly looking for products that fulfil this need, and Alpaca is ideally placed to deliver this. Strengthening the presence of Alpaca within the wider sustainability discussion will therefore remain a key goal for us going forward.

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