Unless you’re pretty serious about fashion or you’re in the textile business, you probably think of wool as wool. After all, what’s to know? But the truth is, there are lots of different types of wool that are made with many different types of fibers. There is much more going on than sheep’s wool. So when it comes to alpaca vs cashmere, what are the differences and similarities? Why does it matter and what does it mean and what should you know about these two different kinds of wool?
Wool By Any Other Name
Humans have been wearing wool for many thousands of years. It makes sense, as this material is warm and insulating, naturally resistant to moisture and highly durable. Sheep’s wool is very common material, used the world over to make sweaters, scarves, and knitwear of all kinds. But there’s a whole world of wool beyond sheep.
Alpaca and cashmere are both high-end types of wool that have their own distinct features and characteristics. Knowing about these wools and knowing how to tell the difference between them will make it much easier for you to find exactly the type of fashion your want and cultivate an amazing style.
Alpaca vs Cashmere
The literal and scientific difference between alpaca and cashmere is clear. Alpaca fibers generally have a thickness ranging from 18 to 23 microns. Cashmere mostly measures 19 microns. But there are many other differences between these two types of wool.
Where They Come From
Alpaca and cashmere actually come from two vastly different regions of the world. Cashmere comes from a certain type of goat that lives in a particular region of Asia, mostly around Mongolia.
Alpaca comes from goats that live in the Andes mountains of Peru. These goats actually produce much more hair than the goats that create cashmere fibers, because alpacas are suited for their mountain habitat.
Both cashmere and alpaca wool are made from goat hairs, which are longer and finer than sheep’s wool. This is why both alpaca wool and cashmere are considered to be luxurious materials.
Cashmere goats produce hairs that are around 4 centimeters long. Alpaca hairs are longer, measuring between 8 to 12 centimeters. Since cashmere hairs are shorter, knitted items made from cashmere are more prone to pilling than alpaca fibers.
Alpaca goats also grow hair in 22 natural color variations, while cashmere-producing goats display just three different color shades.
Because alpaca goats live in a mountain region, their hairs have a hollow core that traps pockets of air to provide the goats with natural insulation. Cashmere goats also have insulating hairs, and this is why both types of fibers are so good for making knitwear. However, the hollow core makes alpaca even more insulating and warming against the body than cashmere.
Cashmere is a well-known luxury material and it is expensive, but it is not hard to find. Cashmere’s popularity has spread this material all around the world and it appears often in designer fashion. Alpaca is much more rare. There are far fewer alpaca goats in the world and alpaca wool is much more difficult to find than cashmere.
Environmentalists are growing increasingly more concerned about the environment and some fashionistas are starting to call for more responsible practices in the industry. If sustainability in fashion matters to you, alpaca might be your preferred choice.
The goats that produce cashmere have created an environmental crisis in Mongolia, decimating the natural grassland habitat. Demand for high-end cashmere has caused goat farmers to push the limits of herds, breeding more and more goats to fill the fashion gaps and satisfy the cries for this material. This has led to huge problems with the natural grasslands in the region.
Alpaca goats, by contrast, are allowed to roam their mountain habitat freely and do not cause damage to their natural landscape.
Both alpaca and cashmere are types of wool and both are high-end luxury wools. They are soft to the touch and insulating and warm on the body, yet lightweight and breathable. Both materials are used in designer and expensive fashion and both are used to create knitwear of all types. Both are made with goat hair fibers and both must be cared for as any luxury wool would be treated.
The pricing between the two materials is often similar, though cashmere may sometimes cost more than alpaca in some stores because cashmere is so much more popular as a luxury material.
When it comes to quality, both these materials are highly similar in touch, drape and feel, with alpaca being somewhat warmer and more insulating than cashmere and cashmere tending to pill more often than alpaca. Both types of wool can be dyed to any shade and knit to create any garment.
Cashmere is a bit softer to the touch than alpaca because the fibers of cashmere are finer. They are smaller in size, which creates a softer final finish in the fabric. If you want the softest possible Alpaca wool, look for baby alpaca wool. This is the finest and highest quality.
No, goats do not need to be harmed or killed in order for their hair to be used to make clothing. The way sheep are sheared for their wool, goat hair is cut off the living goat. The goat goes prancing off into the grass or the hills to grow more hair to make more future sweaters, scarves and other fashion items.
Both cashmere and alpaca are durable materials that retain water well to help you stay dry in damp conditions, characteristics that all types of wool have.
Alpaca and cashmere wool are also both considered to be hypoallergenic. Unlike sheep’s wool, goat hair does not contain lanolin. This is the natural material found in wool that causes people who have wool allergies to have an allergic reaction. People aren’t actually allergic to wool but to lanolin. However, wool allergies are not affected by cashmere or alpaca, as these are made with goat hair and not sheep’s wool.
The Differences and Similarities in Alpaca vs Cashmere
There are more similarities between alpaca and cashmere than differences, but the careful shopper knows the differences. When it comes to choosing between these two luxury types of wool, make your decision based on what qualities matter to you and think about the type of luxury fabric you want. Both these high-end wools are beautiful and touchable and luxurious to wear. And now, you know enough about both these types of wool to make the right fashion decision for you.
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