Vicuña fibre is made from the Vicuña llama, a rare and protected animal which is fragile, graceful and very shy, but also gifted with extreme agility and it is the smallest of the camel species, growing to an adult height that varies from 70 to 90 cm. It lives on the grasslands and plains of the high Andes in Peru, Chile, Bolivia and Argentina at an altitude of 4,000 to 5,500 mtr. The Vicuña is shorn every two years to produce an unsurpassed soft and light fibre. Before being declared endangered in 1974, only about 6,000 animals were left. Today, the Vicuña population has recovered to about 350,000.
The international trade in Vicuña fabric sourced from living animals is again allowed, but the Vicuña’s relatively low numbers, their unsuitability for farming, their low yield of wool each year and the remarkable material’s unique combination of softness, lightness, and warmth ensures that Vicuña remains the world’s most expensive fabric.
Vicuña is the rarest and finest hair fibre available. Vicuña is considered the softest fibre in the world, softer even than cashmere and warmer than any other hair fibre. The fleece of the Vicuña is formed with two layers to protect it from the cold climate of the high altitude Andes. The under-fleece is made of soft and dense packed fibres that act as an insulator, while the outer-fleece is made of long and silky fibres. The ambitious and successful programme for the conservation and international promotion of vicuña products immortalizes the legend of the people of the Andes that this unique fibre was a gift of the gods and therefore too precious and exclusive to be used by anyone but the royal family.
The adult animal produces only 250 grams of coat every two years which is then reduced to 120 grams after shearing. Therefore, to produce an overcoat in Vicuña the fleece of 25 to 30 animals is needed, the fleece of 6 to make a sweater and the fleece of more than one animals shearing to make a scarf. The garment made from Vicuña has an extraordinary value which is increased further by the traditional methods for processing the fibre handed down over the centuries from the ancient Peruvians. Hence it’s exclusivity and limited availability of this product on the market further increases the intrinsic value of vicuña fabrics and garments.
At present, the Peruvian Government has a labelling system that identifies all garments that have been created through a government sanctioned chacu. This guarantees that the animal was captured, sheared alive, returned to the wild, and cannot be sheared again for another two years. The programme also ensures that a large portion of the profits return to the villagers.
Processing of Vicuña fibre
The textile processing of Vicuña fibre is akin to the creation of a work of art from precious raw materials, and those who participate in each of the different stages must have great manual dexterity and keen senses. The vicuña will only produce about 0.5 kg of wool a year, and gathering it requires a certain process. During the time of the Incas, APPAREL VIEWS BANGLADESH/MARCH – APRIL 2018/25 By Vasant R Kothari, NIFT, Mumbai vicuña wool was gathered by means of communal efforts called chacu, in which multitudes of people herded hundreds of thousands of Vicuña into previously laid funnel traps. The animals were sheared and then released; this was only done once every four years. The Vicuña was believed to be the reincarnation of a beautiful young maiden who received a coat of pure gold once she consented to the advances of an old, ugly king. Because of this, it was against the law for anyone to kill a vicuña or wear its fleece, except for Inca royalty.
The first part of the production process, which starts with capturing, shearing, and setting the animal free, followed by de-hairing, transporting, washing and drying the fleece, is carried out by expert hands. By contrast, the second stage of the process, balancing the two worlds, uses the most sophisticated technology available to the textile industry in order to process this exceptionally fine and relatively short fibre. After spinning a delicate yarn of optimum characteristics, weaving, and carrying out a delicate finishing process, then a beautiful luxurious cloth are obtained, an exceptional raw material with which the world’s best designers and outfitters will be able to express their art.
Major properties of Vicuña fibre
Vicuña is the finest, softest and most exclusive natural fibre in the world, considerably finer, silky and lighter than Cashmere or Angora. It has an average diameter of 12 microns (One micron equals one million of a mtr), against 15 of cashmere and length of 20 to 25 mm. Vicuña performs an amazing heat regulating function that protects from the severe winters and the torrid summers. Its warming properties come from the tiny scales that are on the hollow air-filled fibres.
The Vicuña fibre varies in shades from golden brown to dark fawn and wheat. Vicuña wool is sensitive to chemical treatment so it is left in its natural colour. Vicuña wool is capable of being spun and about eight times finer than human hair. It looks like very fine wool but feels like a luxurious blend of mohair and silk. Vicuña fibre is excellent for people who are sensitive or allergic.
Caring of Vicuña fibre clothes
Only dry clean is advisable for Vicuña fibre clothes.
Vicuña fibre is now available once again on the world market, although some countries still consider the Vicuña endangered and thus any product from them are illegal for importation. The wool from the Vicuña has always been a rare and expensive commodity. Ten thousand years ago, at the time of the Incas, wearing clothes made from Vicuña wool was a privilege reserved only for the Inca leader. And Vicuña was also referred to as “the fabric of the gods.” The gene pool that produces the noblest of the noble world fibres should be preserved for all future generations to enjoy and to this end research must continue to maintain the pure herds as well as research in the rest of the world to preserve and improve fibre qualities.