John & Susan Merrell
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Scio, OR 97374
503-394-3790
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The Rise of Peru

Alpaca remained popular for the better part of a century, but virtually all processing of the fiber was done in Europe.  The indigenous peoples o South America were left to provide a commodity, while the riches associated with the luxury fiber went to foreign textile manufacturers.

Alpacas had been held in high regard throughout the Andean highlands for thousands of years.  As early as 1827, Simon Bolivar hadsigned a decree to protect all camelids, which include alpaca, llama, guanaco and vicuna. Since then, alpacas have been treated as a unique and essential resource. This is particularly true in Peru, which was the last ot open its borders to exports, and maintains strict controls to this day.

Sometime in the late 1910's, alpacas began regaining their importance in the Peruvian fiber industry. Improved infrastructure, including motorized vehicles and better roads, helped the developing commerce, and a fiber trade was established in Puno and Cusco, while mills were open in Arequipa.

With the end of World War II, efforts were made to vertically integrate the Peruvian alpaca industry.  The first successful company to do this was Michell.   The Michell Company is a vertically integrated Peruvian textile manufacturing conglomerate that is known to almost everyone associated with the global specialty fiber business. Founded by an Englishman, Frank Michell, the company imported its first equipment in November of 1946, and by June of 1947 was putting together Peru's first alpaca textile mill.

Michell and Grupo Inca controlled much of the alpaca industry from the mid 20th Century to the present. While these companies continue to trade with Andean peasants raising alpacas the traditional way, they also own large herds and support large ranches and cooperatives.  They represent a truly vertically integrated industry, from field to distribution.  Most of the world's finished alpaca product flows through these two monoliths

Based in Arequipa, Peru, these two companies contribute over $50 million to the Peruvian economy.

The late 20th Century has seen the development of smaller alpaca processing operations established to benefit the smaller producers in South America.  There are a number of companies exporting product made in relatively small shops in Ariquipa and Lima, and there is a great deal more finished alpaca product being exported from both Chile and Bolivia.

With signs that China is showing interest in alpaca the power of Peru may be further weakened.  Unconfirmed reports suggest that China is now the largest purchaser of alpaca fiber in the world, and it is know that China has been importing livestock from Australia. 

 
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"He wore a big cluster diamond pin, a sort of hen-and-chickens of his own, secured by a minute guard-chain on a ruffled shirt-front of snowiest linen, where clung dry crumbs of the "fine-cut" which puffed the lower side pockets of his gray alpaca sack coat. His gold-headed cane was almost a bludgeon..."

- George Cabel
Gideons Band, A Tale of the Mississippi
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