The rarest, finest fibre in the world comes from a small member of the camel family that lives wild in the Andes: the vicuña.
With its sun-colored, ultra-soft fleece, the vicuña was sacred to the Incas, and like them, fell victim to the greed of merciless invaders. Reduced almost to extinction between the end of the Inca empire in 1572 and the 1970s, the species was systematically wiped out first by the Spanish conquistadors and then by poachers, intent on acquiring the animal’s precious fleece. The fact that the vicuña has now been saved is due in large part to the work of Loro Piana.
In 1994, a consortium led by Loro Piana signed an agreement with local communities, backed by the Peruvian government. The agreement gave Loro Piana company the exclusive honor of buying, processing and exporting vicuña in the form of textiles and finished products.
Before this agreement, there had been a lengthy ban on trade in an attempt to protect these diminutive animals from poachers. Only after the involvement of the communities of campesinos was there a turning point in the story of the vicuña. The locals were granted the right to shear the animals, yet safeguard them, while in turn receiving the proceeds of the strictly monitored shearing process.
The increase in the vicuña population, from 98,000 head in 1995 to the current figure of 180,000, confirms the success of this project and ensures that the species will be definitively saved from extinction in the future.
Since then, Loro Piana has honored its ongoing commitment to the vicuña, creating Peru’s first private nature reserve in 2008. The Dr. Franco Loro Piana Reserve is named after the father of Sergio and Pier Luigi Loro Piana. In just five years the number of animals living within the Reserve has doubled, thus advancing another key step towards saving the species.
On the strength of the company’s experience in Peru, Loro Piana recently ventured into Argentina, where the company purchased the majority share in a local firm that has permission to shear vicuñas that thrive in the Catamarca province in northeastern Argentina.
As in Peru, Argentina too has enacted a scheduled, controlled, cruelty-free shearing of the animals as a safeguard against poaching; without their precious fleece, the vicuñas no longer represent a source of income for criminals. This is why in Catamarca it is said that every animal sheared is an animal saved.
In an area of more than 85,000 hectares, of which Loro Piana has been granted use, the vicuñas are monitored and left free to roam. The shearing is carried out by experienced operators under the close supervision of veterinarians. In Peru, on the other hand, where the vicuña legends and traditions are still very much alive, the animals are sheared following the ancient Chakku ritual, which dates back to the days of the Incas. Just as in the past, hundreds of people gather on this special day, which is marked by time-honored practices and rituals. The beaters shout and whistle to flush the vicuñas downhill, where they are corralled into shearing pens, carefully selected, sheared and then immediately released.
The result of this operation is the rarest fibre in the world. The adult animals produce just 250 grams of fibre every two years and after the de-hairing process, this results in less than 150 grams.
The fleece from Peruvian and Argentinean vicuñas is equally fine and valuable. The main difference lies in the color: the Peruvian animals have a golden brown fleece, while those in Argentina are a light honey color. Both fibres are similarly fine and feather-light, with the same extraordinary ability to retain body heat.
Known as the “Fibre of the Gods,” in the past, the vicuña was reserved solely for the use of the Incan emperor. Now it can be enjoyed once again, with fabrics and garments that are certified and accompanied by documentation to prove that they come from animals sheared live, in a completely traceable process.
The Queen of the Andes continues to dress the world…as in the ancient Inca legends, nature yields unique and precious gifts to those who respect her.
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