Alpacas produce a luxurious fiber esteemed by textile connoisseurs throughout the world. The history of this domestic species extends back four thousand years. By the time the Spanish arrived 500 years ago, alpacas were being raised everywhere in the central Andes, and the conquerors would certainly have found these “sheep of the Andes” grazing the hillsides and grassland páramos within what we know today as Ecuador. But alpacas became extinct in this country during the late 1800s, after centuries of decline due to disease, displacement by introduced European livestock, and a progressive decay of indigenous culture, including the husbandry know-how of indigenous herders.
Stuart White moved to Ecuador in 1982 from Albuquerque, New Mexico, and has been raising alpacas in Cañar province since 1984 in an effort to return this species to the country’s livestock lineup. After three decades of caretaking and selective breeding, his alpaca herd is widely considered to be the best in the country.
The story might end here were it not for Patricia Espadero, a veterinarian and Cuencana who married Stuart in 1999. Patricia shared Stuart’s passion for alpacas, and while they began to build their family, the alpaca herd also grew. Now they have three children and graze 520 alpacas on pastures of their Mazar Wildlife Reserve. It is called a wildlife reserve because, according to Stuart’s calculations, the alpacas occupy only 3.5% of the property, while the rest of the land remains as undisturbed native habitat. Here a complete wild fauna can be found, including the Andean bear, mountain lion, spotted cats, brocket deer, Andean fox and mountain tapir. 160 species of birds have been inventoried, and 10 species of frogs, four new to science. Patricia and Stuart’s property, like that of their closest neighbors, is so rich and intact that they were included in an expansion of Sangay National Park decreed in 1992.
As a national park in-holding, their property represents a special responsibility—one that dovetails with Patricia and Stuart’s life-long commitment to biodiversity and watershed conservation. With the defense of wild habitats as a fundamental goal, Patricia developed a business plan, and set it in motion: Alpacas raised on pastures of the Mazar Wildlife Reserve produce the quality fiber and quality textiles that fund the conservation of the surrounding montane forests and grassland páramos. A store in Cuenca was needed to showcase the products, and be the point-of-sale for a wide variety of alpaca products, most from the alpacas grazing pastures of the Mazar Wildlife Reserve.
Thus All Things Alpaca Ecuador was born. The store found its home at Honorato Vazquez 6-28, in a historic building, and is now open for business. It represents the culmination of Patricia’s dream, and no doubt the start of another. Products include yarn of a variety of natural and dyed colors and presentations; hand knitted high-quality sweaters designed by Patricia and her collaborators; scarves, hats; blankets; pelts; and rugs knotted by hand. Alpaca tack includes wooly chaps and horse blankets woven on the Andean back strap loom. Patricia also sells organic alpaca manure in 10 lb. bags—an odorless, balanced fertilizer for gardens and potted houseplants. In addition, she anticipates offering products from alpaca herds kept by indigenous communities located in buffer zones and conservation areas of southern Ecuador (including Sangay, Cajas and Chimborazo national parks), as a commercial outlet for these communities and an incentive for their efforts at sustainable production and wild habitat protection.
Social responsibility is crucial for Patricia. Reflecting this ethic, she has found local artisans and women’s knitting cooperatives to make the products she offers in her store. Clients are guaranteed that the alpaca clothing and home goods offered by All Things Alpaca Ecuador are sumptuous, stylish, and supportive of biodiversity and water resource conservation, while crafted in Ecuador from the finest alpaca fiber.
Store location: Honorato Vazquez 6-28 y Hermano Miguel, Cuenca, Ecuador
Current store hours: Monday through Saturday, 10am to 1pm.