About five years ago, fashion designer Ulla Johnson traveled to Peru for a sourcing trip. It was there she was first introduced to the alpaca fiber at several knitting and weaving cooperatives around Cusco and the Sacred Valley who work exclusively with alpaca. “I fell in love with the material, as well as the magical animals themselves,” said Johnson.

As sweater season begins, many consumers will walk into luxury department stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue, or Macy’s and note that, along with wool and cashmere, knits are often made with a fiber called alpaca. More and more, the fashion designers behind labels like Rochambeau, Ulla Johnson, Mara Hoffman, where Mountains Meet, Nicholas K., Philip Lim 3.1, Yeezy, John Varvatos and Steven Alan are choosing alpaca due to the combination of its soft, luxurious feel and its sustainability. Alpaca fuses luxury with sustainability, making it a desirable choice for both fashion designers and consumers.

Alpaca are South American camelid animals similar to the llama that are just as cute as they are good for the environment. They reside high up at altitudes of 11,000 feet to 16,000 feet in the Andes Mountains in Peru. The silky, natural fiber it produces makes it an ideal material for sweaters and knits. Depending on the age of the animal and how it’s processed, the final yarn can be very high quality and soft. It’s also hypoallergenic and flame resistant

Designers gravitate to alpaca because of the quality of the fiber, and depending on the weight, its versatility allows it to be worn throughout the year. “It is light or heavy in weight, depending on how it is spun,” said Genevieve Saylak, the founder and creative director of where Mountains Meet, which she started with creative director Corissa Santos. “It is a soft, durable, luxurious and silky natural fiber.