Alpaca Fur – Samantha Holmes

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I love Peruvian Alpaca fur, it is absolutely amazing! It’s insanely soft and hypo-allergenic with no lanolin content, making it perfect for sensitive skin… Although Alpaca (made from baby alpaca fur) is less well known than cashmere (made from goat) it’s equally beautiful. I’ve heard it actually trumps cashmere in terms of durability, softness and warmth. Most importantly it’s cruelty free as the Alpacas are not killed to make fur…..

“Farmers do not kill their baby alpacas for their skins because it is not financially viable for them to do so. The skins are tiny. Alpacas can live for 20 years, promising a lifetime of shearing potential of far greater value than a single skin.”– Samantha Holmes

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Samantha Holmes is a designer who founded her label in Scotland in 2003, each product is designed in Scotland and made by skilled artisans in Peru using yarns made from Baby Alpaca and Bamboo. Samantha moved away from the traditional ethnic designs (typically associated with South American products) and concentrated on producing on classic designs which make them more appealing to a broader audience. Samantha’s products include snuggly scarves, blankets, luxury gifts and baby-wear which you can find at tippity-top boutiques such as Fortnum and Mason.

Samantha Holmes first travelled to Peru 10 years ago to meet the artisans who have since helped her produce her collections. Now she works with a network of around 500 knitters, who make everything by hand. She visits them every year to ensure that they are  being fairly remunerated and are working in good conditions….  I was lucky enough to speak to Samantha Holmes (below) about her Alpaca fur range.

 

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What makes Alpaca fur so special?

The alpacas have not been killed for their fur. Our skins are ethically sourced from alpacas which have died of natural causes, mainly from the weaker animals and baby alpacas – or ‘cria’, as they are known.
Alpacas roam freely in their natural terrain on the Altiplano of the Andes where Winter temperatures can plummet below 15 degrees celsius. It is not financially viable for farmers to kill their baby alpacas for their skins. The skins are tiny and worth little compared with fleeces which can be shorn during a whole lifetime. Alpacas can live for 20 years promising shearing potential of far greater value than a single pelt.

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What is the difference between types of alpaca furs?

Huacaya Alpaca is quite spongey and bushy. Suri Alpaca Fur is flatter and more silky.

Can you tell me a bit more about the artisans who craft your collections and how you work with them?

I have worked directly with one team now for 13 years and we have grown together.  They are based in Lima.  I work closely with various small independent producer groups in poor communities.  The groups are principally family businesses and individual home workers.   I visit them every year and see that they are fairly remunerated and work in good conditions.  My longest serving knitter, Essau, managed to build himself a house on the proceeds of the earnings he has had from my business. The future of the handknitting industry in poor rural areas in Peru in uncertain, as more and more, the younger generation is moving away to seek better employment in Lima, or in the burgeoning mining industry.

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Why should people be buying sustainable clothing from this region, and rewarding the people who make them?

I think it’s important to have diversity of supply.  We don’t want everything coming from China.  I would love to get products produced in Great Britain, but I am loyal to my workers in Peru.  After all, alpaca is originally from the Andes and the people have been living and working with Alpacas for 1000s of years, long before the Incas!

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How important is it to make sure the products we buy are fair trade?

I think it’s important to know that what you are buying is ethically produced.  Many ethical producers do not have “Fair Trade” accreditation for all sorts of complicated, but good reasons.  It’s generally smaller businesses like mine who work directly with small producers which fall into this bracket!  I try to be as transparent as I can be with my product story – I talk about the people I work with and how I work with them in my marketing.

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Where have your products been featured? 

Gosh, I’ve been doing this for 13 years so we’ve been in lot of magazines and Newspapers.  The main ones are probably Vogue, Country Living, Country Homes & Interiors and TheSunday Times and various publications in Europe as we export there too.

Who would you love to see wearing your designs?

Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett – I love their style.  Ooh and also Judy Dench (but she already does!)

What is your favourite product on the website?

My Alpaca Fur Pom Pom Scarfs – new this season!

 

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What is the thing that surprised you most about working in Peru?

How I get by with my awful Spanish.

What is your favourite thing about Peru and South America?

Ceviche and Pisco Sour!

What’s your favourite Peruvian dish? 

Ditto.  I’m pleased to see that there are various places specialising in these now popping up all over London!  Bring it on!

Don’t forget to visit www.samanthaholmes.com

Thanks for reading, TLC X

@thelatinacook