What Is Vicuña Wool: A Closer Look
What is vicuña wool? Vicuña wool is famous for being one of the most expensive fabrics in the world. As the name suggests, the wool comes from animals called vicuñas which are related to llamas and live in the high reaches of the Andes mountains located in Peru. The will of the vicuñas is so prized for its softness and lightness that even the ancient Incas admired the wool.
The Incans valued vicuña wool as highly as gold. Because of this, the Incans mainly reserved this wool for royalty and to be worn during special occasions. During this time (between the 13th century and the 16th century), vicuñas roamed freely and in large numbers throughout the Andes mountains. The wool was harvested from these animals by sheering them. Then, the wool could be spun into various products from sweaters and socks to blankets and furniture.
However, the harmony between the vicuñas and the Incans would not last forever. In the 16th century, the Spanish conquistadors invaded South America and noticed the value of vicuña wool. Unfortunately, they did not care to shear these animals as the Incans did in order to conserve them. Instead, the conquistadors took their firearms and hunted as many vicuñas as they could to take their wool. Since this period, other cultures and peoples engaged in the same hunt in attempts to become wealthy with wool.
What Is Vicuña Wool?
Of course, this behavior was not sustainable. After a few hundred years and upon entering the 20th century, the vicuñas were an endangered species with no more than 6,000 left in existence. It was only at this point that the Peruvian government decided to implement conservation efforts, also creating a large reserve for the animals. Thanks to these conservation efforts, the vicuñas are no longer endangered. In fact, more than 200,000 currently live in Peru currently.
While these animals are still greatly sought after for their luxurious wool, they are no longer killed for it. Also, while the number of these animals has increased, the harvesting of their wool occurs in small batches. This is one of the reasons why this wool can be so expensive. To put the price into perspective, per kilogram, cashmere is around $80 while vicuña wool can be priced up to $600.
Other reasons why this wool is so expensive include its characteristics and the time it takes to harvest. For example, once a vicuña is sheared, it can take around 3 years for its wool to entirely grow back where it can be harvested again. When sheared, a single vicuña can yield around a pound of wool. Since this is a small amount in commercial terms, this also contributes to its high price. The wool is also hypoallergenic, warm yet light, and extremely soft. If you’re lucky enough to have a vicuña wool item in your wardrobe, you can consider yourself to be the proud owner of the so-called “gold of the Andes.”