The variety of natural fibres and regenerative materials that can be used by the fashion industry is wide, and the responsible use of these materials can bring environmental, social, and economic benefits, being one of the best examples of the South American camelid fur. For centuries, camelids have been a fundamental part of life for the Andean communities, qualities such as beauty, waterproofing, hypoallergenic, and durability made of the camelid wool and Andean textiles famous around the world. The camelid fibre and Andean dyeing techniques bring different solutions to the consequence of the environmental problem as well it contributes to society and the South American ecosystem itself.
Properties of guanaco’s fibre
The guanaco (Lama guanicoes) and vicuña (Vicugna vicugna) are the wild ancestors of the alpaca and llama and can be found across the Andes in the extremely cold, dry, and harsh climate of the Puna region. Argentina has traditionally had the largest population of guanacos, with an estimated population of 2 million (Gavuzzo et.al., 2015). The guanaco conversely is valued for its fibre, which is one of the most highly esteemed within the camelid family due to its extremely soft fleece. While the guanaco and vicuña are often compared due to be the two wild camelid species, they do not share the same fibre qualities; the guanaco has a greater fibre fineness of 15-19 microns, whereas the vicuña’s fineness equates to 10-15 microns (Infoalpacas, 2015).
Guanaco fibres are often used as a luxury fabric, resulting in high economic value across international markets. However, despite its prominent success in foreign markets, local producers of raw fibre materials across the Andes gain the least of its economic value. Thus, projects which provided added value to guanaco fibre products are crucial to improving the lives of rural artisans, producers, and farmers.
The positive environmental impact and symbolic importance of guanacos
According to Ricardo Baldi (CONOCET, 2012), an associate researcher at the National Patagonian Center (CENPAT-CONICET), guanaco has cushions on the toes and, thanks to that, impacts the soil less: pastures are better preserved because sheep destroy it with their hooves. Guanacos also digest dry pastures better, recycle nitrogen better and thus consume less food. That is very important during times of drought. According to historical data, guanaco populations in pre-Columbian times reached 30 to 40 million specimens from northern Peru to the extreme south of Chile, without resulting in degradation of native ecosystems.
Furthermore, guanacos, like all living beings, have the right to live and remain on earth and this is part of the "Good Living" of all living things. Keeping that in mind and respecting this knowledge, the communities and indigenous peoples demonstrate the importance of their wisdom in facing the urban society that has caused this environmental crisis. The principle of "Good Living" (or Sumak Kawsay) is a symbol of the movement of indigenous peoples and communities from all over the continent, synthesizing the deep desire that all diversity, social and biological, should be respected and considered the greatest wealth of our continent. This includes all the guanacos, the cattle of the "Pachamama".
References and where to learn more
CONICET (2012). Guanaco. An alternative to sustainable development. Published by CONICET.
Gavuzzo el al. (2015). Distribución y densidad de guanacos (Lama Guanicoe) en la Patagonia. Informe Relevamiento 2014 - 2015. INTA y Ministerio de Agricultura, Ganadería y Pesca.
Infoalpacas (2015). Enfoque de Competitividad exportadora en prendas de vestir de los camélidos. Infoalpacas.