Alpaca goods sell at new downtown boutique

 Natural fiber doesn’t absorb moisture and is nonallergenic

By Mike Lammi Livingston County Daily Press 
& Argus (Howell)

BRIGHTON, Mich. (AP) — Don’t try to pull the wool over Kathleen Aksten’s eyes.

She prefers alpaca.

Aksten recently opened Triple Diamonds Alpaca Boutique in Brighton. The shop opened its doors last month and specializes in alpaca clothing, fabrics and accessories. The boutique sells alpaca yarn, sweaters, socks, shawls, blankets, rugs, stuffed animals and more.

“Alpaca is one of the most luxurious natural fibers in the world,” Aksten told the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus. “It’s seven to 10 times warmer than wool, but it’s soft like cashmere. It’s lightweight versus wool’s heavy weight. With wool, you get that prickly, itchy (feeling).”

Another advantage to alpaca is that it’s nonallergenic.

“Alpacas don’t produce that lanolin when they grow their fleeces,” Aksten said.

Aksten is very familiar with alpacas, having raised them for many years at her Triple Diamonds Ranch in Hamburg Township. For the past few years, she has been selling alpaca items in a small boutique at Meier Flowerland, which is owned by her partner, Danny Meier.

“We were kind of just dabbling with that over there, but now we wanted to open a bigger boutique (in downtown Brighton),” Aksten said.

Among the most popular items are alpaca socks. Aksten said the socks “have a lot of memory” because alpaca is a very durable fiber. A pair of socks goes for about $20, but Meier said they’re worth every penny.

“When I work in the greenhouse and I’m in my boots for 14 hours a day, I don’t even sweat in them,” he said.

Aksten said that’s because alpaca is a natural fiber that doesn’t retain or absorb moisture, allowing it to be used in summer and winter items.

“As much as there’s a warmth factor, keeping the cold away from you, it does the reverse in the summertime and keeps the heat away from you. You can actually have an alpaca comforter and use it all year long,” she said.

Some of the sweaters in the boutique are hand-crocheted with the highest-grade alpaca and can sell for hundreds of dollars. A lot of designers in Paris use alpaca in their blend, Aksten said.

“It’s high-quality and it’s costly, but then we can use blends and bring the cost down by adding different kinds of fiber into the blend,” she said. “You still get the effect of the warmth of the alpaca even though there might be only 15 percent alpaca in there. It still acts as the same insulator.”

Because of its durability, alpaca clothing is ready to wear in any weather and does not need to be treated. The socks are machine-washable, but Aksten recommends hand-washing and dry-cleaning everything else.

Alpacas are native to South America, but were introduced commercially in the United States in the 1980s.

Some of the fleece from shearing the dozens of alpacas at Triple Diamonds Ranch is turned into yarn, which is purchased by a lot of knitting groups in the area.

“There’s so many knitting people around here who say, ‘Where can I get alpaca?’ Anybody can get regular wool,” Meier said.

“They all love to use and work with the alpaca,” Aksten added.

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