Shear Quality: Shearing Alpacas in Rural Perú

Alpacas are renowned for their soft fleece, but few people know the intimate details of alpaca fleece harvesting like Adam Riley, a professional alpaca shearer with eight years of experience in both the United States and Europe. He has spent half his life with alpacas, and volunteered with Awamaki this past winter in order to improve our alpaca fleece processing.

Long before Adam discovered Awamaki, he had been thinking about coming to Peru, the land of the alpaca.

“It’s always been a dream of mine to come here and work with the Quechua people, and to see alpacas in their native environment.”

Adam carried his expertise and equipment up into the communities that we work in, living on the alpaca farms with families for anywhere from three to nine days at a time. He worked with the men to show them his style of shearing, such as how to separate the higher-quality fleece from the lower quality. Adam normally uses an electrical shearing machine, but since there is no electricity up on the chakra, or farm, he used traditional hand shears. Most of the families use even more basic equipment, sometimes shearing with just a sharp kitchen knife.

Adam mostly worked with the husbands to show them his techniques, since they are the ones who traditionally shear the alpacas.

“With a women’s-based cooperative, the men often do not participate in most of our processes. Getting to work so closely with the families – particularly the men – and build relationships with them was a unique experience that I think they really enjoyed.”

Awamaki is in the process of improving our line of hand-spun alpaca yarn. In the past, there have been problems with the cleanliness of the alpaca fiber, with debris and dirt remaining in the final product. Additionally, the type of fleece used for the hand-spun line needs to be of very high quality in order to be acceptable in European and US markets.

After completing the season’s shearing, Adam worked with the women in our cooperatives to show them how to sort and skirt the fiber. Thanks to Adam and another volunteer, Karina, Awamaki now has a wonderful alpaca fiber sorting and cleaning guidebook for each of the cooperatives. Overall, sharing his skills with the communities resulted in a great cultural exchange.

“Living and working alongside the families gave me an inside look into life in rural Peru and the Andes – which is really basic. But the people, they have such strong family ties, they are genuinely happy, they are healthy, and they are hardworking. I think they have the right values in life, and I was incredibly humbled and fortunate to spend the time that I did with them.”

The next steps for our handspun yarn line are to purchase alpaca fiber washing equipment for our cooperative in Huilloc and develop standardized yarn weights with the help of our expert knitwear volunteers. Each step brings us closer to the release of our 100 percent natural alpaca hand-spun yarn line! These yarns will be used by our knitting cooperatives to expand our handspun knitwear line, and they will also be for sale directly to the public for the first time. Look for them in our store in Peru and online!

About Awamaki

Awamaki is a nonprofit fair trade social enterprise dedicated to connecting Andean artisan weavers with global markets. We collaborate with women artisans to support their efforts towards educational and financial independence by co-creating beautifully handcrafted knit and woven accessories using hertiage techniques.