How do alpacas live in the Bolivian highlands?

Bolivia is the first producer of llamas in the world and the second producer of alpacas, after Peru. It has about 400,000 alpacas distributed among the different locations of the Bolivian „high plane“ or highlands, in the hands of thousands of families of farmers.

Mandua manufactures its products with COPROCA alpaca fiber. This Bolivian company collaborates with 1,200 livestock partners from 20 locations in 3 different departments: La Paz, Oruro and Cochabamba. All located on an average height of 3,800 meters. Each farmer owns between 100 and 2,000 alpacas.

How do alpacas live?

Bolivian highlands are located in the west-central of South America, where alpacas live in a 100% natural environment, with wide pens and where overproduction does not exist. It is so natural that its grasslands do not have automatic irrigation systems. These alpacas have enough space to graze and feed; the smallest farms have at least 20-30 hectares. In times of drought, ecological forages are used to replace conventional pastures. These forages are obtained with low amounts of water and are grown in a few days with corn or rice seeds. Alpacas live an average of 4 to 5 years. Usually the causes of death are natural, although sometimes they can die of cold or suffocation.

When and how are alpacas sheared?

Each alpaca is sheared every two years since they are two years of age.

This procedure is carried out once a year, between October and February, since they are the least cold months, preventing alpacas from freezing. It is also known that when alpaca accumulates a lot of fiber, this can suffocate it and even die.

Normally the farmer shears them by interspersing two groups. In other words, those alpacas who were sheared the previous year will still have to wait until the following year. There are several traditional techniques to shear them, with different mooring practices; from mooring the 4 legs to tie their heads in a corridor.

Any of these millenary techniques last between 15 and 20 minutes per animal. The farmers have the help of experts, who use the most appropriate cutting instruments so that the animals do not suffer pain at any time. It is important to note that there is no mistreatment towards alpacas and they are released immediately after being sheared.

How is alpaca fiber?

When shearing alpaca, different qualities of fleece are obtained. Fleece is the alpaca fiber before being processed and arranged in clews, whose quality varies between: Thick, Standard, Super Fine, Guariso, Baby and Royal. The last two qualities are found in animals in smaller proportion. The youngest (2 years) are considered “baby alpaca” although this sort of fleece is also found in small areas of the most adult alpacas.

With what kind of products is alpaca fiber dyed?

The company Coproca uses safe colorants to dye the alpaca fibers, whose chemical agents are allowed and certified by the ETAD.

In addition, fiber washes are free of APEO and are approved within the current ecological principles.

Would you like to know about alpaca benefits and to discover why is so special?:

Find interesting facts on the following links: ,

Amazing andean communities

At Mandua we have a mission: honouring the traditional Andean culture and traditions, while bringing quality products adjusted to the western taste. It took us a long time until we found the right suppliers and weavers, which guarantee the highest quality standards and keep loyal to the traditional methods to make our knitwear.

The women involved in our production have an ethical empowered and fair way of living, being able to provide for their own families. Fair trade is one of our main concerns in the process.

In the Andean communities there is something they grow up with. Every member of the community is trustworthy to others, they support each other, appreciate each other… The traditional values make it so that mothers and fathers teach their children all they know about producing their fabrics and making the most of the amazing alpaca wool.

They worship the Pachamama (Mother Earth) for its resources and take good care of their animals, as they basically belong to their families. There is so much to learn from our ancestors and the communities which have make it through the pressure of times to keep all those societies based on love and values. Mandua helps them pay for the land to acquire a sustainable way of earning their living, while keeping loyal to their amazing lifestyle. Be part of this great community that reaches so many people! From the far distanced Andean region straight to your home.

Alpacas and the goats of cashmere

Brands such as Louis Vuitton, Versace and Polo Ralph Laurent have been buying tons of alpaca fiber in the Andes for their upcoming collections. Since 2012 there has been a considerable increase in the consumption of alpaca, and most luxurious stores in the world offer garments made with the “Incas’ fiber”.

The alpaca, also known as „Gold of the Andes“ is a material as dazzling as cashmere but rather more resistant. Such is so that the Incas gave more value to the alpaca fiber than to the very gold.

Alpaca outperformed cashmere at Fashion Week in New York and is on the way to gaining ground in the rest of the world. The most demanding consumers are learning that alpaca fiber retains its new appearance for a long time and is also seven times warmer and four times more resistant than traditional sheep wool.

Before the 90s, cashmere items were rare, extremely luxurious and were produced in small quantities. As globalization became more apparent, the production of cashmere fiber increased exponentially becoming a mass item and its quality started to be affected. Cashmere production is proving disastrous for the environment in places like China and Mongolia.

On the one hand, since goats are much more resistant to inclement weather than sheep, shepherds tend to replace their sheep with herds of goats. The sharp hooves of the goats destroy the plant soil and eat the plants to their roots, which makes the land increasingly arid and poor, favouring desertification.

The increase in the production of goats ends up becoming a vicious circle. As a result, grasslands in China are not enough to feed the goats needed to supply the large quantities of cashmere products demanded by clothing stores; thus, so many of the fields where goats graze are becoming inhospitable grasslands. It is also estimated that seventy percent of Mongolia is in danger of desertification.

Today the luxury is the alpaca

Fields of the Bolivian altiplano, where the alpacas graze happily, do not have desertification problems.
Alpacas live mainly in the highlands of the Andes, a much less fragile ecosystem; their soft and padded hooves are delicate with the ground, they graze without destroying the roots of the plants.

Alpacas are also more efficient than goats. An alpaca drinks less water than a goat and can have enough wool for four or five garments per year; but twenty goats are needed to produce what a single alpaca does.

Are alpacas and llamas the same?

I was always wondering what differences has one camelid from another… and I finally understood!

Would you like to discover it as well? The group of camelid animals is vast; just look at its members: dromedary camels, Bactrian camels, wild Bactrian camels, llamas, alpacas, vicuñas, and guanacos.

Camelids are large, strictly herbivorous animals with slender necks and long legs. The musculature of the hind limbs differs from those of other ungulates in that the legs are attached to the body only at the top of the thigh, rather than attached by skin and muscle from the knee upwards. Because of this, camelids have to lie down by resting on their knees with their legs tucked underneath their bodies.

They have three-chambered stomachs, rather than four-chambered ones; their upper lips are split in two, with each part separately mobile; and, uniquely among mammals, their red blood cells are elliptical.

Camelids do not have hooves, rather they have two-toed feet with toenails and soft foot pads. Most of the weight of the animal rests on these tough, leathery sole pads. The South American camelids, adapted to steep and rocky terrain, can move the pads on their toes to maintain grip.

Camelids are behaviourally similar in many ways, including their walking gait, in which both legs on the same side are moved simultaneously. The consequent swaying motion of camelids large enough for human beings to ride is legendary.

Dromedary camels, Bactrian camels, llamas and alpacas are all induced ovulators.

The three Afro-Asian camel species have developed extensive adaptations to their lives in harsh, near-waterless environments. Wild populations of the Bactrian camel are even able to drink brackish water, and some herds live in nuclear test areas.

Bactrian camel: Central Asia (entirely domesticated)
Wild Bactrian camel: Central Asia (entirely wild)
Dromedary or Arabian camel: South Asia and Middle East (entirely domesticated)
Llama: domestic form of guanaco.
Guanaco: South America.
Huacaya Alpaca: domestic form of vicuña.
Suri Alpaca: domestic form of vicuña.
Vicuña: South American Andes.

Can you identify each camelid on the picture? Which is your favourite one?

„Alpacas: The Gold of the Andes“

If you like soft, cosy and natural wool in winter… You will definitely love alpaca wool! Compared to other wools and fabrics on the market, the alpaca has many advantages.

It is pleasant to the touch, much warmer than traditional sheep wool, even being extremely fine. Alpaca is also silky and comfortable… and best of all, no chemicals that attack your body and the environment.

Since alpacas can only be shorn about once every three years, their wool is very rare and thus extremely valuable. The product of this very first shearing of the animal is called „Baby Alpaca“ and occurs only once.

Alpacas are able to develop this special fiber because of their environmental conditions: they are found on the Andes, where many live over 3000 meters altitude.

What makes alpaca so special?

Vicuña and alpaca wool are considered as the most luxurious and finest wool in the world. A list with the reasons why alpaca is so special:

  • Alpaca wool is very thin and can reach a thickness of only 19 microns.
  • Alpaca wool is 3 times stronger than sheep’s wool and even 7 times warmer.
  • Alpaca wool has excellent insulation and excellent thermal qualities.
  • The microscopic air cushions between the gossamer fibers make this fabric incredibly light and still very warm.
  • Alpaca wool has a silky shine, which remains despite its production, dyeing and washing in its naturalness.
  • Alpaca wool contains no fats, oils or lanolin.  Totally natural!
  • Alpaca wool is dirt and water repellent and insensitive to sunlight.
  • Alpaca wool has a high durability, which ensures easy care and sustainability of clothing.    
  • Alpaca wool is hypoallergenic.    
  • Alpaca wool is available in more than 22 natural colors (in shades of brown and gray).

The Gold of the Andes

All these qualities are the reason that the alpaca wool is called  „Gold of the Andes“. Every product made of 100% alpaca wool is a pure, luxurious and natural treasure! Today, this wool is still an insider tip and is already being traded as the new cashmere.

Take a look at Mandua Catalogue 2019.

Mandua is delighted by Alzérreca’s art!

Jaime is a lecturer, architect, photographer and artist, who lives in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He is able to integrate all these different disciplines in his art pieces, pictures, research works and books.

We are happy to work together with Bolivian multitalented Jaime Pérez Alzérreca. Today, we want to share with you his artistic face, which you will also see on our web site.

Plastic artist: he studied Art in drawing and painting, at the school Raul G. Prada in Cochabamba, Bolivia. From the earliest years in Art School, his first art pieces were included at the final exhibitions organized by the School.

Illustrator: Jaime stands up to today- as an illustrator of several projects in the Research Institute of Architecture.

He is the creator of the illustrated workbook, LOOKS AT THE 17 OBJECTIVES OF SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, a product financed by Swedish cooperation.

Architect: he was formed as Architect at the University of San Simón and participates in this process as an illustrator of several projects both academics and professionals, generating large pieces illustrating architectural projects.

Photographer: he worked at Simón I. Patiño Foundation, in the documentation of architectural and historical heritage legacy of the productive and social sector in Bolivia. Until now he is actively involved in several individual and joint photo exhibitions in important art spaces in the city of Cochabamba.

Lecturer: he teaches both undergraduate and graduate careers of Architecture and Visual Communication from the University of San Simón, Cochabamba.

As seen in his paintings, Jaime manages to capture social behaviour signs of his society. To that end, he travels around the country to discover the peculiarities of the citizens and (native) communities in the different public spaces like markets, churches, streets and squares.

It is fantastic the way he found to integrate socio cultural aspects with architecture and art! We will definitely keep in touch with Jaime and come back with more of his unique art.

Find more about Jaime on his Facebook Page.