[Preparation Title]

What do I do with My Fleece?

(a work in progress)

[W]hat indeed. The shearer has come and gone, all of your alpacas are out frolicking in the pasture, and you're left with a big pile of fleece. Now what?

If you're a fiber person then you already have designs on this fleece and that fleece. You know that Fluffy is going to be over-dyed and with some of Puffy is going to be knit into that sweater for your niece...

But what if you aren't a fiber person? Some options are

Of course, because I'm in the business, I'd like to see you send me at least some of your fleece for processing into batts or roving. Realistically though, that probably isn't the best thing for you to do with your fiber.

Right now, the alpaca business is a business of animals not fiber. We all know that ultimately the alpaca business will be about fiber - it's just a matter of growing a sufficiently large, high quality, national herd. I believe that now is the time that we should be getting ourselves ready for that time. Actually, I've been saying what you are about to read for a fairly long time.

I believe that we as an alpaca industry we must own our product and hence the industry from harvest until we sell it at retail. If we just sell our raw fiber to someone else, at that moment we're done making money on our product. If on the other hand, we own the product until it's sold to the final consumer as a finished garment then there is a lot more money to be made. It's about market size and value adding. Sure, you can sell your raw fleeces to fiber artists for pretty good prices but that's a relatively small market and fiber artists are picky; they want only the best, and next year they may not want what you have. You can send your fleeces to me or to some other fiber processor to have them cleaned and carded into batts or roving. Those products can be sold into a larger market of spinners and felters and quilters at higher prices. You can send your fleeces to a processor who will make yarn from them so now you have an even larger market of knitters and crocheters and weavers. What if you could convert your fleeces to sweaters and shawls and socks and all manner of other products? This is the largest and most profitable market - because no skill is required to wear a sweater but skill is required to make one.

Owning the industry doesn't mean that we have to own the scourer and the dyer and the mill and the garment factory - outsourcing services is common in many industries. As the business grows, it might make economic sense to own some or all of the service providers if it can be shown that such ownership produces a better product at less cost. But, we must continue to own our product until we sell it to the retail customer

[A]lpaca Fiber Co-ops

It will be no small task for us to develop the infrastructure and markets and branding and retailers necessary for us to become a profitable fiber industry. This is why we need to start working on the problem now. Already there are a handful of cooperatives that are starting down this path. Each operates differently, each has different immediate goals, but they are exploring the frontier. Will they all be successful? I think not. In the long term I expect that through failures and mergers and evolution, these pioneers will converge on a solution that will prove profitable for their members and the alpaca fiber business as a whole.

Caveat Lector: I am a member of AFCNA. I am not a member of NAAFP but have completed their Fiber Sorter training (see Sorting).

Alpaca Fiber Cooperative of North America

Perhaps the largest and oldest cooperative, AFCNA is wholly owned by its members and appears to produce the largest variety of end product from its members' fiber. AFCNA has two web sites; one is for members, the other is an online store.

Members of AFCNA must own one share of common stock in the co-op and must be a fiber producer. Members are obliged to commit a portion of their annual clip to the co-op.

American Alpaca Fiber Federation

Update 2011 May 19 - Website for AAFF still exists but is a blank page.

AAFF has an arrangement with a Mexican mill that produces denim. AAFF buys fiber from its members, collects it, cuts it to lengths appropriate to the mill's requirements, and ships it to the mill. Payment to producers is made in the form of a voucher that details the sale with final payment by check to the producer within 120 days. To sell fiber to AAFF, producers must be members; producers pay AAFF (through their five-year membership fee) to buy their fiber.

New England Alpaca Fiber Pool

Update 2011 May 19 - The store portion of the NEAFP web site still broken. In two separate browsers, links to the store produced blank pages.

NEAFP sells product in two ways. Purchasers may simply purchase goods at wholesale for a specified cash price or, by paying a manufacturing fee and contributing a specified amount of fiber to the pool. There is no "membership" per se, though once you've made a purchase from the pool, you are in effect a member. At the time of this writing, the store portion of the NEAFP web site was not working and e-mail to their support e-mail address was rejected by their mail server.

North American Alpaca Fiber Producers Cooperative

NAAFP follows a cooperative model that seems to blend aspects of AFCNA and NEAFP. Fiber producers pay a one-time membership fee and pay for production and shipping costs pro rata. Members must have their fiber sorted by qualified sorters before they submit it to the co-op. There is a limited product line of mostly yarn blends. There is no on-line store. This co-op's web site needs significant work as several links lead to Microsoft Word documents rather than proper web pages.

The sorting of its raw fiber distinguishes NAAFP from all of the other co-ops discussed here. Sorted fiber produces superior finished products because the fiber used in the manufacture of finished product is uniform in grade and the grade is appropriate to the product. This results in more durable product and product that is a pleasure to wear.

Royal Fiber Spinnery

There are four ways that one may participate in the Royal Fiber Spinnery pool. The first is to purchase shares in the company which gets you a vote on how the company will proceed in the future and processing of a certain amount of your fiber. Second is to contribute fiber to the pool, pay assessed processing charges and take your product in yarn. The other two are to trade your fiber for yarn or cash (this last on a occasional basis).

The Spinnery primarily produces yarn in natural colors though they also produce hand dyed yarns as well as a few finished goods. While their store is a standard "off the shelf" internet store, their corporate web site is probably the most poorly conceived and executed of the those considered in this review.


Last modified: 2011 May 19 1645:12 UTC