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17th August 2008, Loch Lomond, Scotland

Alpaca - an alternative to cashmere?

Luxury knitwear designer Samantha Holmes reports a significant increase in demand for alpaca yarn and claims that UK consumers are looking for an alternative to cashmere clothing.

According to Holmes there are around 18,000 alpacas are registered within the UK and Holmes reports that more and more people now chose 100% baby alpaca yarn over cashmere. The Samantha Holmes alpaca brand, launched in 2003, has seen a huge increase in alpaca appreciation and the range has quadrupled and is now stocked by over 300 trade customers throughout the UK, Ireland, mainland Europe, Australasia, US and Japan.

The increasing popularity of baby alpaca comes as no surprise to Samantha Holmes. For ultimate softness, Samantha uses the purest baby alpaca which is fibre from young and extremely fine haired alpaca. According to Holmes its hollow fibre makes it weightlessly warm so ideal for summer or winter. With no lanolin content or "prickle factor", it is claimed to be suitable for babies and sensitive skins and Holmes also claims that it is up to 30% warmer than the same weight of Merino wool and up to four times harder wearing. In addition Holmes says that good quality alpaca does not pill or ball like some cashmere sweaters can and springs back when squashed so does not crease easily. The fleece comes in at least 22 different natural colours so Samantha Holmes avoids using dyes in many of her products to retain the natural beauty of Alpaca.

Based near Loch Lomond, the business continues to focus on exclusivity, versatility, simplicity, comfort, purity and luxury in all of its products. Each item is made and hand finished by skilled Artisans in Peru. Alpaca products include women’s hats and gloves, lacy wraps, fingerless gloves, stripy bed socks, and ankle warmers. Designer baby gifts include alpaca fur baby yeti boots, chunky knit shawls, cable knit ponchos and fingerless mittens for newborn babies. The Samantha Holmes homeware collection includes alpaca rugs, cushion covers and bed throws.

Samantha Holmes' range is entirely handcrafted by small producer groups mainly in the poorer, rural communities of the Peruvian Andes where Alpaca has been spun and woven for hundreds of years. With the wellbeing of her artisans firmly in mind, Samantha Holmes is currently in the process of formalising her fair trade aims and expects to gain membership of BAFTS in the near future.

Samantha Holmes developed her interest in luxury fabrics and traditional craftsmanship while working for a small international importer of cashmere from Nepal. After travelling to Peru and making contacts with small producer groups, Samantha launched her own Alpaca label in May 2003. She has taken a creative slant on the fibre moving away from the more rustic ethnic designs associated with South American crafts and concentrating on classic, universally appealing designs.

Holmes now works with a network of some 500 hand-knitters. She is committed to fair trade and visits the producers each year to ensure that they are fairly remunerated and work in good conditions. According to Holmes, each worker normally knits for no more than 4 to 5 hours a day.

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